Saturday, 28 June 2014

Back At Oxford

I leave Lechlade in better weather on Wednesday.  On the journey to Oxford good mooring spots are few and far between - certainly for a 54ft boat with a dog who will not use the plank but I find an unexpected (and unplanned) one  at Rushey Lock.  Engines are turned off while in locks on the Thames and mine refuses to start again.  I have cover under my insurance policy for two free callouts per year from River Canal Rescue (RCR).  It is getting late in the afternoon so I am not very hopeful of anyone coming out tonight but, because of trees, there is no way I can pull the boat back to the lock landing using a rope and it is too deep to pole the boat back.  I am concerned I may have run out of deisel and the engineer who I speak to agrees to do the 3 hour round trip and bring some deisel just in case.  A short while later there is a knock on the boat.  It is the lock-keeper's wife (he is on long term sick leave) and she informs me the boat is in danger of tilting because I am only using the centre rope to secure the boat.  This could happen if the lock emptied and the rope was tied too tight but I know I am OK because the lock has just been emptied (prior to the engine not starting) and refilled.  She also informs me that I should be tied up with three rropes to avoid the danger of tilting - a statement which is factually incorrect.  She also insists I telephone the Environment Agency emergency number to tell them I am stuck in the lock, even although I say the engineer will be here in less than an hour.  I do phone but they are not particularly interested - no surprise there!
There is another cottage, apart from the lock-keepers, next to the lock and I get chatting to the friendly couple there while James amuses their two children.  I discover there is a locked gate at the end of the one mile track leading to the main road and they agree to lend me their key to walk down and let the engineer in.  He phones to say he is near and I go to the cottage to borrow the key.  The man says he has been informed that, under the terms of his occupancy, he is not allowed to lend his key to anyone and, moreover should not open the gate for anyone else.  However he is not going to leave me in the lurch and offers to drive me down to the gate to let the engineer in, then go back to let him out.  My grateful thanks to him.  I go in the car with him and ask if he had phoned the EA and he replies "No, I received a phone call telling me not to lend the key".  The penny drops - it was the lock-keepers wife!  It crosses my mind that she may be stressed by her husband's illness but I subsequently discover it is not serious. What a nasty piece of work and a very sad lady.  She wanted me to remain stuck in the lock!
The very pleasant engineer starts the engine in no time - it was an air lock in the feed but we fill up with the diesel he has brought to ensure I can get to the next boatyard.  I knew I was getting a bit low on diesel but did not know there was nowhere to buy any between Oxford and Lechlade (including Lechlade).  Admittedly it is a very rural stretch with no roads close for much of the way - I should have consulted my guide beforehand.
Not much room here!
And no moorings here

With overhanging trees the river is surprisingly narrow in places with some very tight bends.
There is little or no internet signal until I get back near Oxford but the forecast for Thursday is good so I decide on a long days cruise.

The very pretty Pinkhill Lock.  The blue sign says "self-service", which means there is no lock-keeper on duty and you have to operate the locks yourself.  Despite being large they are easy to work and most are not very deep - Pinkhill is 3'6".
I arrive back at King's Lock, just before Oxford, where I moored 10 days ago and stay there for the next three nights, awaiting the better weather tomorrow (Sunday).  I have not enjoyed the cruise up to Lechlade and back as much as I thought I would.  Not helped by worries about James and the shortage of good mooring spots (and poor internet/phone signal).

9 miles; 4 large locks
17 miles; 6 large locks 
TOTAL:  412 miles; 232 locks (58 broad; 26 large; 7 lift bridges)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lechlade, head of navigation

On Thursday morning James and I have a walk up to the reservoir.  It is difficult to convey the size in a photo but it is 4 miles in circumference so a lot of water.

Leaving my mooring on Friday morning, where I needed to use the plank to get onto the bank.  I am not keen on it's use as James is a wimp and will not use it so I have to carry him off and on.  It's OK going up but I am not keen on going down while carrying him.

Most of the locks have very nice cottages and many of them are still occupied by the local lock-keeper.  The size of the houses show the importance with which the keepers were regarded.

I am very surprised by the lack of good moorings - at least for a narrowboat, without having to use the plank.  I end up going all the way to Lechlade, the limit of navigation

Father Thames at St John's lock, just below Lechlade

And the very pretty gardens - all of the lock grounds are very attractive and well kept

Very pleasant moorings (at £4 per night) and a huge field for James to tear about in.  The only problem is the large herd of young and very inquisitive cows who have a liking for chewing ropes (and anything else available) - they seem to enjoy waking up boaters at 6 in the morning!

View from the bridge - my boat moored in the distance

Ha'penny bridge at Lechlade, built in 1792 and named after the toll which used to be payable.  The toll house is the square building on the right.
The very popular waterfront
Having stocked up at the butchers and village stores on Saturday, I intended to move on, on Sunday, but James' eye problem has returned.  Although I still have the eye drops there is no way he will let me put them in, so a trip to the vets on Monday morning.  He prescribes a week's supply of antibiotic tablets and I decide to stay put another couple of days to make sure they are effective, as there are no towns near the river between here and Oxford.
Dawn - after being woken up by the cows.
The Round House marks the upper end of navigation on the Thames. It was one of a number of such roundhouses built for the canal lock keepers, with accommodation above and stabling for horses below.  To the right of the building is the entrance to the Thames and Severn Canal. This canal linked the Thames to the Stroudwater Navigation at Wallbridge, near Stroud, and thence to the Gloucester Canal and River Severn.  It was closed in 1933 but the Cotswold Canal Trust has a major restoration project in hand, mainly towards the western end.

6 miles; 1 large lock
16 miles; 6 large locks 
TOTAL:  386 miles; 222 locks (58 broad; 16 large; 7 lift bridges)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Onto The Thames

Leaving my mooring of the last five nights on Tuesday.  Nice quiet spot, except for the occasional train and very handy for the town (and vet!).

Only its mother could say a moorhen chick is beautiful

Duke's cut and a shortcut to the Thames but I decide to continue to the end of the canal, skirting Oxford.

I had not noticed that going this way would mean three lift bridges, none of which were left open.  A kind cyclist offered to help with the first one and I discovered they are easy to operate on one's own.  The bridges are well balanced and you can lift them from the towpath side.  After going through you just pull them back down with the chain - why can't they all be like that?  It was not really worthwhile taking the longer route - pretty unattractive and lots of scruffy long term moored boats.  At least I can say I have travelled the full length of the Oxford canal.

And onto the Thames where I discover the stretch from Oxford to Godstow lock is used extensively by the University rowing teams - it seems strange to be passed by rowers - and not just the eights - single scullers zoom past me with ease.
The remains of Godstow Nunnery, founded in the 12th century and destroyed by Cromwell's army in 1645.  At one time it was extremely prosperous and owned lands in 17 counties.

My moorings for the night at King's Lock with Duke's cut on the left, where I would have emerged had I not taken the longer route.  A lovely spot even though I had to pay to the EA £6.50 for the privilege - a bit cheeky as I have paid them over £300 for the Thames license.

I had hired boats on the Thames previously but below Oxford.  Upstream from Oxford is very quiet, remote and lovely, in contrast to the very busy lower Thames.
My mooring on Wednesday night - a very quiet spot next to the very large Farmoor reservoir.

9 miles; 7 locks (2 large); 3 lift bridges
4 miles; 2 large locks 
TOTAL:  364 miles; 215 locks (58 broad; 9 large; 7 lift bridges)

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Poor James!!

Saturday, I moved down to Cropredy.
14th century sandstone church
Delightful village which comes to life once a year for the annual folk festival.  Held since the mid 70's, the main attraction is Fairport Convention.  More on Cropredy here and Fairport Convention here

The lock at Cropredy
Sunday and back to Banbury, which I caught the bus to last week - a 16 minute bus journey has taken me 3 days by boat!  Stocked up at Tesco and moored just out of the town.

A bit further on, on Monday and I thought I had found a fairly quiet spot, apart from slight motorway noise (the M40 runs close to the canal for a fair way).  I discovered differently in the morning when the earth moving machines started up at 8 am, building a new housing estate!
Apparently the original builders of the canal ran a bit short of money so, on the section from Banbury to Oxford, used the  cheaper lift bridges and only one bottom lock gate rather than the more usual (and more expensive) two.  The latter is not any problem but means I have to get off the boat to close the gate.  The lift bridges are much more of a pain to a single boater.  Fortunately nearly all are left open.

Never far from the M40

Strange looking trees after the cutting back

Always sad to see, it was no doubt someone's pride and joy - the outboard looked pretty new.
A very unusual feature.  The canal follows the course of the river Cherwell from Cropredy nearly to Oxford but at Aynho the river crosses the canal, coming in from the right of this photo and exiting on the left.  Care needs to be taken if there has been much rainfall and warning boards are in place.


There have been lots of lovely blue dragonflies or damselflies darting about and finally one held still for long enough to get a photo.  I think it is a damselfly, rather than a dragonfly, but by no means certain.

My mooring for the night - stand-off between James and the 4 dogs at the farm shop on the off-side.

On Tuesday I just moved down a bit to get better TV reception.  One of James' eyes is weeping a bit and I manage to rinse it out with some Optrex, which seemed to help but on Wednesday morning it is worse and inflamed so a visit to the vet urgently required.  What would I do without Google!  The next vets is  at Kidlington - a long way further on but I make an appointment for 1815, in the hope of getting there in time.  It means my nice leisurely cruise down the South Oxford is at an end but needs must.

Somerton Deep Lock At 12 ft it is the deepest lock I have done.

The River Cherwell joins the canal again for about a mile

Shipton Weir Lock, where the Cherwell leaves the canal.
This is the second lock built in an octagonal shape which I have encountered on the South Oxford.  I believe they were constructed like this to provide increased water volumes for the next pounds, having an ample supply from the Cherwell.
Swamp Frogs NB at Thrupp, with proud owner Rob looking on.  It is a lovely boat, built to his exact specification, but well out of my price range.  I know him from and, as I had made good time, I stopped for a chat and a nosey at the boat.
Approaching Kidlington - a nice spot to live.
As I do not know how much mooring there is in the town, I stop just before and get to the vets with time to spare.  James has scratched his eye, no doubt while diving into the bushes in pursuit of a rabbit or squirrel and much objected to the treatment he received. I am going to have difficulty administering the eye drops he has been prescribed and the vet suggests I buy a muzzle. I will need it! Unfortunately they have none for sale but tell me there is a pet shop at the other end of town so, on Thursday morning I use my bus pass again.  Armed with the muzzle I try administering the drops but James violently objects and I am at a loss what to do.  Hilary and Marcus, on the boat moored behind me, come to the rescue and even with the three of us holding him down it is a real struggle to get the drops anywhere near his eye.  The treatment is supposed to last 7 days, three times a day!!!!  On Friday Marcus is working and Hilary comes up with the great idea to use a latex glove and put some cream on my finger and try to get some in his eye - I am not sure if we managed or not but it goes slightly better when Marcus returns and lends a hand for the next attempt.
I made an appointment to see the vet at midday, today and, thank goodness, she declared his eye was better and I could stop the drops (not that he had had many!).  It took the vet, the nurse and myself four attempts to get the ultraviolet drops in his eye for examination - he can struggle extremely well!  What a relief, especially as Hilary and Marcus moved on this morning.  My very grateful thanks to them - a lovely couple.

2 miles; 3 locks
6 miles; 4 locks; 2 lift bridges
4 miles; 2 locks
3 miles; 2 locks
13 miles; 8 locks; 2 lift bridges
TOTAL:  351 miles; 206 locks (58 broad; 5 large; 4 lift bridges)

Friday, 6 June 2014

A lazy few days

Not a lot happened since the last post. On Monday I moved a bit to get a better phone and internet signal and found a truly delightful spot.
So delightful that I stayed 3 nights and did not hear a car all of the time I was there!  I may have stayed longer but I was running out of supplies so on Thursday I travelled to Fenny Compton and caught the bus to Banbury and a visit to Morrisons.  Bit busy at the wharf (with boats) so I moved to the top of the next set of 5 locks at Claydon for the night.  Friday morning I could not make up my mind whether to move or not - Andy Murray was playing Nadal in the French semi-final and I had a good TV signal.  However the sun was shining and I could not resist the urge to untie the ropes.  Hot day and there were plenty of boats moving, making descent of the flight very pleasant, with help at the locks and plenty chatting.  I stopped at the bottom of the flight - unfortunately just in time to see Andy getting trounced - he has never beaten Nadal on clay.  In fact only one person has ever beaten Nadal at the French Open and he has won the title 8 times in the last 9 years.

2 miles; 0 locks
 7 miles; 0 locks

 7 miles; 5 locks
TOTAL:  323 miles; 187 locks (58 broad; 5 large

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Napton Flight

Back to the junction and the turning to Calcutt

It seems the Napton flight has been a bit neglected and an approach wall on one of the locks recently collapsed onto a boat mooring up for the lock.  Fortunately no-one was injured but it has meant restrictions have been imposed, apparently causing chaos over the bank holiday weekend.  It was fortunate I came up the flight when I did as another of the locks has now been closed for emergency repairs.
Unusual local livestock.

10 miles; 9 locks
TOTAL:  307 miles; 182 locks (58 broad; 5 large)


Saturday 31 May 2014

She passed!

Pleased to say there was no problem with the BSS exam, so that's that for another 4 years.
Grade II Listed, Braunston Stop House, originally the Toll office between the Grand Junction and Oxford Canals.
The windmill which has lost its sails.
To anyone with an interest in canal lore and legend Braunston is “home”.  It is at the very heart of the English canal system – a pivotal point between North and South. Braunston captures the imagination of waterway writers, artists and photographers, and, with its unique environment, is a living historical monument.
In 1768 the Oxford Canal was formed to link the Coventry Canal at Longford, via Banbury to Oxford, then to London via the Thames.  Ease of construction was crucial to avoid unnecessary locks, embankments and so on, so by 1774 it followed the contours via Rugby and Hillmorton, to Braunston. More information, history and photographs here - well worth a look.

Surprisingly, the church (known as the Cathedral of the Canals) was not locked and proved very interesting with a time line of the history of Braunston, items for sale (with an honesty box) and obviously the centre of the community.

Stag party from Willow Wren training in full swing at the Boathouse pub.
It is a busy place and very interesting but one night is enough for me so I head out back into the countryside.
The junction.
Back to near where I stopped on Thursday (thanks for the recommendation, Paul) and a lovely spot.

1 mile; 0 locks
TOTAL:  297 miles; 173 locks (58 broad; 5 large)

Friday 30 May 2014


Every 4 years it is a requirement of the CaRT license that the boat passes the Boat Safety Exam - a bit like a MOT for boats, covering all aspects which could cause danger - gas, batteries, diesel, stove etc.  I have arranged to meet Nigel, the examiner, at Braunston on Saturday morning so move the couple of miles to Braunston early, as it is a very popular stopping place, to secure a good mooring spot.

2 miles; 0 locks
TOTAL:  296 miles; 173 locks (58 broad; 5 large)

Thursday 29 May 2014

Back Onboard

After nearly a week at the house the drive back on bank holiday Monday morning is very wet and much busier than I expected.  I think a lot of people packed up early because of the rotten weather.  On Monday evening I walked up to the pub with Paul Smith, the groundsman at the marina.  He also runs the website, to which I am a regular contributor.  With my agreement, he used a bit of poetic license in his report of the evening - here.  And the awful weather continued so I paid for another two nights mooring at the marina.

James keeping a lookout at the marina
Even on a dull day, it is a lovely marina, very quiet, with pleasant walks through the woods on the paths Paul maintains.

Calcutt locks and the last of broad locks for a long time. 

4 miles; 3 locks (broad)
TOTAL:  294 miles; 173 locks (58 broad; 5 large)