Friday, 17 April 2009

Back to base

Reflections at the Three Horseshoes

I did not sleep well last night. I awoke to a strange humming noise, and started prowling the boat trying to find out what was causing it, then looking out of the windows into the rainy night to see if there was some reason for it outside. Alan was not sympathetic, he couldn't hear it, and was not happy with being woken up by me trying to find the cause. If I know what is causing something I can ignore it, but if I don't know the reason... well, then my sleep fuddled brain starts imagining all sorts of things.

Alan finally identified the noise, at about 8:30 this morning. It seems to be some kind of transformer hum coming from the vicinity of the Three Horseshoes pub. When speaking to David about this later it turned out that he had been disturbed by it too,and had been up trying to find out if something had been left switched on in the boat.

So, a grey and misty, not quite drizzly day, and 15 locks to our home mooring.

Alan had a look over the engine, since it was making some strange noises yesterday, but couldn't find anything obviously wrong with it, so we set off. The engine was far smokier than normal, which wasn't a good sign, and then, as we we entering the third lock there was a loud bang and Alan lost all power to the prop. David took the boat on the centre line, while I turned the lock, and Alan rolled up his sleeves to go down the weed hatch - only to find nothing around the prop.

The newly re-opened Rising Sun at Berkhamsted
The boat started fine after that, but had a mysterious rise in engine water temperature immediately afterwards - which dropped almost as fast.

There were no major problems after that, although the engine still sounds odd, and is still smoky. Clearly something for investigation.

The very last lock - Cowroast

We arrived back at 2:30 - almost exactly 14 days to the hour to the time that we left. Koukouvagia waved to us and greeted us as we passed Owl. Given that we spent nearly 2 whole days in Thrupp (stopping early on the day that we arrived, and not getting started until well into the afternoon two days later) it is possible in 12 days without going completely mad. With more crew members it would be easier.

I've had a really great time away. I can't wait for the next trip.

Miles: 5.3 ; Locks:15
Total Distance: 251; Total Locks: 175

Thursday, 16 April 2009

To Winkwell

Well, we discovered what the alien light in the sky over the cottage next to Stocker's Lock was. They appear to be filming there, as there is a field full of support vehicles for 'film and television'.

Wet weather gear at Hunton Bridge

A grey and rainy day. We have done only 12 miles, but 23 locks, many of which filled extremely slowly. We want to be back at base by the end of Friday, and it has been quite a slog through the rain.

The worst lock was Iron Bridge at Cassio Park, Watford - it leaks almost as fast as it fills. It was almost impossible to open the top gates - I have no idea how elderly boaters can possibly manage to push the gates open.

Many of the locks in this section of canal have no gate paddles on the top gates, which slows things down even more.

Added to this, the engine has developed a strange noise, that no-one has been able to identify, but we are all fairly convinced is NOT A GOOD THING.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Back on the canal system

15th April 2009

Mike from Blackrose had left for work before we had really stirred this morning. We set off later than we had planned, as we were tired and sluggish. It was grey and misty, but over the day became warmer.

Coming up Hanwell we teamed up with a lovely couple, who suggested that we breasted up the boats, and that Alan drove them up while the rest of us got the locks ready. This worked well, and Alan quite enjoyed having a ‘butty’.

At the top of Hanwell we separated from the other boat and I began some washing, not because it really needed doing, but because I wanted to try the washing machine one more time before we got home. It worked extremely well, so that Chalice is now festooned with washing.

It’s been a warm day, with very little to distinguish it. We’ve worked steadily up through the locks, but there have not been many boats moving so we’ve not shared locks after Hanwell.

We are now moored below Stockers Lock. Alan looked out towards the lock about an hour and a half ago and was puzzled by a very bright spotlight which appeared to be hovering in the sky. David went to investigate, and said that it is a light on an extending 'pole' - which seems to be lighting some work that is going on. The light is at about twice the height of the house, and is illuminating a considerable distance around. It's still there at 10:30 - puzzling as to what work needs that kind of illumination quite so late.

Miles: 17.2; Locks: 17
Total Distance:233.6 ; Total Locks: 137

The tidal Thames

Tuesday 14th April 2009

We stayed moored at Walton while Alan checked the engine, and dipped the diesel tank, ready for our trip on the tidal Thames. We knew that it would not take very long to get down to Teddington, and there was no great rush.

We set off, going through the last two non-tidal locks, and eventually moored at Hampton Court.

Hampton Court Palace

It’s £14 a head for adults, and we certainly didn’t have time for a proper visit, so Alan and I wandered around some of the gardens that are open to the public without a charge and ate scones, cream and jam. It’s certainly an impressive place and I’d like to go back for a proper look when I’ve got time to devote to it.

Mistletoe in a tree at Hampton Court

Chalice moored at Kingston on Thames - looking very small.

We then headed on down to Kingston, where we went shopping for a while - although there seemed to be an inordinate number of clothes shops with clothes that I could not possibly afford- before finally heading down to Teddington.

Strange 'stealth' boats at Kingston on Thames

We moored at Teddington and went to speak to the lock keeper, who said that we needed to leave about half an hour before high tide – at 6 pm. That was almost immediately so we went back to the boat, and then, as we getting ready to leave the pontoon the lock keepers at Thames Lock, Brentford rang to check that we were on schedule. Then, as we pulled away from the mooring a massive cloud of black smoke came from the boat’s exhaust. After our first moment of panic, it eased a bit, and by the time that we were in the lock it was back to normal – but we were apprehensive.

The 200 yard lock at Teddington.

The Thames was very wide, and there was no perceptible flow in either direction as we left Teddington. We were the only boat on the Thames apart from a couple of canoeists. As we headed out past Eel Pie Island it got quite windy and very cold. Then we travelled on under various bridges until we saw Syon Park on the left.

Feeling very small and alone on the Tidal Thames.

We had heard that it can be difficult to spot the turn into the Grand Union, so I had checked it on Google Earth earlier in the day, and was standing at the front of the boat watching carefully. In the end it was not difficult at all – the big black and white sign saying “Grand Union Canal – British Waterways” was something of a give away.

We arrived at Thames lock half an hour in advance of our booked time, but someone was waiting for us, and we went straight through. At Brentford we moored up next to Blackrose, and went to eat at the Prezzo at the end of the marina, where we had an excellent meal.

The trip on the tidal section of the Thames was not difficult. However, if we had had further difficulties with the boat then the only thing we could have done would have been to deploy the anchor and ring for assistance. There was no other boat moving, and although we were through Thames Lock a good hour before sunset, if we had had difficulties then we don’t have navigation lights. We’d checked everything before hand, but it’s never the thing that you are expecting to go wrong that gets you in the end.

Miles: 15.7; Locks: 5
Total Distance: 216.4; Total Locks: 120

Monday, 13 April 2009

To Walton on Thames

Monday 13th April 2009

It has been a beautiful day, with blue skies and lots of sunshine. Once again there have been large numbers of female rowers – sometimes with little understanding of narrowboats, and how they don’t actually have any brakes and how difficult it is to see a single rower nipping across in front of the bows from the back.

In our first lock today one of the big plastic boats got hung up on the bottom lockgates. There was a lot of shouting and waving of arms, but the lock keeper took it all in his stride, he was used to it. He said that he had one boat get hung up twice in a row.

There have been a lot more boats about today, with some considerable queuing for locks, although the lock keepers have worked hard to pack as many in as possible. Locks on the Thames arrive at about half hour intervals on average, so there is often not time to do very much between locks. Then two people are needed to hold the ropes front and back and pay them out as the lock empties.

Alan was doing this, and had become distracted by something else, he spotted just in time that his rope had got beneath one of the boat’s back doors, and had lifted it off its hinges. The door was completely free of the hinges and was leaning against the lock side, just on the point of falling into the lock. That would have been interesting, trying to recover that.

Passing Windsor

We passed Windsor Castle, but the Queen was not in residence.

We rang Thames Lock about booking a passage through Brentford out of hours so that we could leave Teddington on the high tide tomorrow evening, and gain access to the Grand Union. We had a somewhat strange conversation, where the charming man on the phone tried to persuade me that we wanted to go through early tomorrow morning. We looked at the situation again, and calculated the distances, and came to the conclusion that we just couldn’t do it. Then when the man phoned back he said to Alan that there would be no problem with passing through at 19:30 tomorrow, which is what we have booked. In fact, progress through locks has been so slow today that had we decided to try for a passage through tomorrow morning it is extremely unlikely that we could have managed it.

I was grateful to find a Waitrose not far from the river in Staines as our supplies had become very depleted over the Easter Weekend.

We found ourselves breasted up against the same Sea Otter narrowboat in several of the locks, and I got chatting to the female half of the couple. Our extended stay in Oxford came up, and I found myself trying to briefly explain what had happened. I was describing ‘our friend who took me to the hospital’ and the woman exclaimed “Bones! You must mean Bones – everybody knows Bones and Maffi!”

We are currently moored up in Walton on Thames. Having had kites circling overhead further up the Thames, squadrons of geese using the river as a landing strip yesterday, we now have flocks of bright green parrots squawking in the trees giving Walton an exotic aura.

Miles: 23.2 ; Locks: 11 Total Distance: 200.7; Total Locks: 115

Sunday, 12 April 2009

To Cliveden Deep

Sunday 12th April 2009

The Thames lock keepers start at 9:00 am in April, although you can operate the locks yourself out of their working hours. We knew that we were nearly an hour from the next lock downstream, so set off soon after 8:00. Yet again it was drizzling as we set off. A couple of miles after our start I spotted something in the river ahead of us – it was a fully grown female red deer, swimming across the Thames. It reached the left bank as we drew level with it, and it scrambled out of the water and disappeared into the undergrowth.
Soon after that we saw field after field of some kind of south American quadruped in shades varying from nearly black through brown and cream to almost white. I think that they were alpacas, and so I assume that they being breed for their wool.

We kept on all day without a break, passing through pleasant, historic looking towns, past marinas, boat parks and boat yards. Once again there were rowers out – rowing eights usually accompanied by a man on a motorised tea tray with a megaphone. Always the eights are athletic young women – do the men not need to train? At one point I saw a double kayak slowly gaining on us from behind. When I first spotted them they were some distance behind, little more than a dot on the river, but round every bend, along the straights they kept behind, slowly getting closer and closer. When they eventually passed me on the inside of a bend I was astounded to see that the canoeists (kayakers?) were a woman and a man, both of whom were quite a bit older than me.

Henley was amazing, the regatta is not until the summer, but you feel that the whole of the town is geared up to nothing else, everything is just waiting until that point.

Passing Temple Island

The display of wealth and property has been far more obvious as we have moved downstream, the houses have become more and more ostentatious, as have the boat houses. Today there have also been far more, and far larger, boats around than previously. That may be partly because today is Easter Sunday, but it is doubtless also that we have been moving more into the moneyed areas. The day has been characterised by sharing of locks, mostly with large plastic cruisers. The lock keepers have been very efficient at packing the boats in, and contrary to the colourful characters that we met yesterday, there has been far more conformity between them – only one stands out from the others in my memory. Are the idiosyncratic lock keepers confined to the upper reaches of the river, or do the upper reaches create more colourful lock keepers?

Above Hurley lock we passed a meadow where I had a good go at drowning my future husband nearly 30 years ago. A group of family, friends and some work colleagues had gone for a picnic there, we all got very drunk and were swimming and messing about in a couple of inflatable boats. Alan pulled the cork (sic!) out of the inflatable that I was paddling about in, so it promptly sank - so my brother and I threw him in the Thames and sat on him. I didn't know then that he was not a competent swimmer - or really much of a swimmer at all - and it was only later that he confessed how terrified he had been. I should add that I did teach him to swim some years later.

Entering Cliveden Deep

We eventually moored in Cliveden Deep, just north of Maidenhead. Finding a mooring on the Thames is not as easy as on the canals, as the moorings get filled fairly early in the day. As we saw some good moorings, leaving it to the next possible place might have left us with nowhere to moor.

We are now moored about 16 miles from our home as the crow flies - the closest we got today was about 14 miles from home.

Miles: 33.9; Locks: 11

Total Distance: 177.5 ; Total locks: 106

Saturday, 11 April 2009

To Goring Gap

Saturday 11th April 2009

At Osney lock at 9:00 am to try to make up some of the lost time. The Thames is very different to anything we have experienced before. The locks so far are not as big as those we did on the Severn last year, but make up for it in the lock keepers. I assumed that they must have something in common, but all were completely different – the only thing they shared was their colourful personalities. There was the one that thought he was a gypsy; another who saw himself as a salty sea dog; also the Edwardian stationmaster complete with waistcoat, watch chain and walrus moustache; and the squadron leader. Some were taciturn, but others chatty, giving information about the weather, and how trees in leaf soak up huge amounts of water and help to absorb some of the rain and reduce its effects.

Below Oxford we came across the rowers. Teams of athletic young women in lycra with rippling shoulder muscles and astoundingly lean legs, or groups of single skiffs passing down through locks. Occasionally they were accompanied by a trainer on the bank who shouted instructions through a megaphone, and on one occasion in a very fast inflatable with an outboard, which set up an incredible wash. I cannot understand how these tiny boats do not tip over – they seem to be nothing more than a blade of plastic with people balanced on top.
Oxford boat houses

Then, the oddest rowing boat I have ever come across. Four elderly people standing in a boat, rowing at some speed – the oldest and frailest dipping his oar expertly into the water to turn the boat, and the woman at the front quickly lassoing a bollard as they brought the boat to a standstill. After them we saw others in double boats, all of them much older than the teams of young athletes.

We have passed old towns, huge mansions, and boat houses. At times the river was narrow, at others hugely wide and seemingly completely unaltered by humankind, as it might have done thousands of years ago – if it were not for the introduced tree species.

Brick Thames Bridge

The next two months are my favourite time of year – spring really is here now. There are huge numbers of great crested grebes building their nests, and several times kites wheeled over us. Some of the trees are not yet in leaf, but many copses and woods are covered in green, in particular the stately willows lining the river are sweeping verdant branches towards the river, and the sycamores are covered in a lime green froth of flowers.

We carried on to Goring, where we moored to go shopping at the general store in the town. Our boat is lost in a long line of plastic on the moorings, and many of the other boats tower over Chalice. I had quite a job persuading Alan that perhaps sitting on folding chairs on the roof and drinking wine out of coffee mugs was not perhaps the most tactful (or safe) thing he could do.

After we had gone shopping Alan and I walked up to Streatley on the other side of the Thames. In the mid 1970’s I walked the Ridgeway long distance footpath with friends and stayed at the Youth Hostel in Streatley. Looking for supplies in the morning we went into Wells General Store, opposite the hostel, only to find that it was an amazing cheese shop. Nowadays every supermarket has a wide range of cheeses from all over the world, but back then this was an Aladdin’s cave, and I came across cheeses I had never heard of. There were also home cooked pies, meats and patés. The store was run by Major Rance, with his glinting monocle, while the rest of his family helped. I visited many times over the next few years, often stocking up on a range of cheeses for the Christmas season. The building still bears the sign over the door, but it is discretely shuttered now, and there are no signs that it is a shop any more.

Goring Lock

At about 8:30, with the sky still light, but the trees and boats dark, David and I stood on the front deck of Chalice while a bat flitted around the bows, skimming over the water, then disappearing into the darkness, only to appear again almost in front of our eyes silhouetted against the sky. David’s 20 year old ears could hear some of its sounds and cries, but to me, it was silent.
Distance: 28.4 miles; locks: 10
Total distance: 143.6 miles; 95 locks

Missing pictures

As I've been somewhat tired and stressed over the last couple of days, I've missed putting some photos on the blog. I've now updated some of the recent posts with relevant pictures.

Friday, 10 April 2009

John Radcliffe Hospital

Friday 10th April 2009

Up early, breakfasted, then we started walking down the towpath at about 8 am in the drizzle. One of our problems was that the bus timetables are all different today, as it is Good Friday, and I had an appointment at 10:15. We walked into Kidlington, where we were lucky enough to come across a bus about to leave for the centre of Oxford, then we also had the good fortune to get another connection towards the hospital very soon after we arrived at the bus stop in St Aldgate.

We got to the hospital almost an hour in advance of my appointment, however, the new West Wing includes a large atrium café serving good cappuccino.

At the eye hospital they couldn’t find my notes at first, although details had been faxed through by the optician yesterday. I had an anaesthetic put into my eyes, then two different pupil dilators, then they tested pressures again with ‘a more modern machine than the optician’. Then the ophthalmologist spent ages looking at my eyes from every angle while shining extremely bright lights into my eyes. When she wanted me to look left I found that my right eye tended to close, which meant that I couldn’t then tell where I was looking since all I could see in my left eye was the light, and it would wander slightly. So I was given more anaesthetic to try and counter this. I struggled all the time to keep both eyes fully open, and my eyes felt dry, while watering constantly. Eventually she finished with one machine and asked me to lie back in a reclining chair – at which point I discovered that I could see nothing with my left eye. I had one awful moment of panic – “I can’t see anything at all in my left eye!” “No, you won’t be able to, I’ve been shining very bright lights into it, you've been dazzled - it will take about 10 minutes to recover”. Whew!

So, she then did various other tests and announced that I had a couple of relatively minor problems that are common in middle age, and are largely asymptomatic, and that – the most important thing – there was no sign of a detached retina.

She gave me advice about what I could expect to happen over the next few weeks, and what would be abnormal and would need further attention. I can only say how lucky I was that this problem showed when I was near to one of the best hospitals in the country. I know that I can’t say that I won’t get major visual problems in the future, but I do feel that I have had the best possible check that I could have had.

We had the same good fortune with buses as earlier, and got back to the boat by about 1 pm, then a quick lunch and we set off. I have had to be careful for a large part of the day, as the medications in my eye took a long time to wear off – my pupils were dilated for hours afterwards, and consequently my vision was a bit fuzzy, and outside the boat it seemed extremely bright, although it was drizzling.
Interesting mechanism for holding the lock paddle open at Duke's cut

So, then down Duke's Cut and on to the Thames at Kings Lock. We are currently moored just above Osney Lock.

The factory opposite has a beautiful brick facade, which has been hacked about and ruined by brick structures inside the windows, a pity.

Distance: 8.3 miles Locks: 6
Total Distance: 115.2 , Total Locks: 85

Thursday, 9 April 2009


Thursday 9th April
Over the last few days I’ve had some visual disturbances in my left eye – at first I thought that it was associated with migraine problems that I have had recently, then I decided that I had a ‘floater’, and that I would go to see an optician when I got back from this trip. However, yesterday I started to get more visual problems, and so decided that while in Oxford I needed to see a doctor or an optician. So, we asked Bones about it yesterday evening.

She asked lots of questions, and then offered to take me to see an optician in Oxford – she said that Boots is excellent, and said she would give me a lift into town in the morning.

At 8:15 Bones was there at the boat, she had decided that if there was a problem then I would need to be seen at the hospital, so she had rung them, and had been told to take me to A & E. We shot through the morning traffic, and into the hospital, where A & E reception said that I would have to be seen there first, because if I went to the Eye A & E, then I would just be sent back to the ordinary A & E. So we waited for a nurse to take some details, then we waited, and eventually a charming doctor came and looked at my eyes. She explained that she thought that it was a problem that ‘sometimes happens in women of your age, with long sight’ – hmmmmm. However, to be sure she wanted the Opthamologist to see my eye. We waited, then the doctor returned and said that the eye specialists were in surgery, but she hoped it wouldn’t be too long, then she came back again, and said that the eye department was really busy. Eventually, she said, that if I went to an optician in Oxford, they would refer me back to the eye department, and that might be the fastest way to get my eye seen!

So, back to the BonesMobile - sweeping through the traffic into what must have been the only parking space in Oxford. We went into Boots, where Bones marched up to the practice manager. “Hi, I’m Dr Bones…” then she went on to explain the problems. They organised an appointment for half an hour later, then we went for coffee.

I was given all the pre-tests – the eye puff, the field of vision dots, the retinal photo – then taken in to see the ophthalmic optician – who was somewhat unhappy that the hospital had sent me to them (as you would expect), and then said “You’ve got your GP with you, then?” “Um, she’s a friend….”

The optician gave me the full range of tests, then put drops in my eyes to dilate my pupils, then took me to have the pre-tests done again. Then he spent ages looking in my eyes with a very bright light. Then he said that my vision was very good (despite the long sight), and that he was almost completely sure that the problem is one that would go away of its own accord – however… He said that to be absolutely certain I needed to see a retinal specialist, so he faxed the details off to the hospital, who would ring me with an appointment for that afternoon.

By now it was 1pm, and Bones was meeting someone at 1:30, so she had to go, but she made sure that we knew all the right buses for the hospital, and then back to the canal. Without Bones we would have been completely lost, we would have had no idea where to go, or what to do.

So, Alan and I walked around Oxford waiting for the phone call – which didn’t come.

Eventually, we went back to Boots, and the optician tried ringing the hospital again, who were still busy, but said that they would ring back. At this point my phone rang, and I was offered an appointment for tomorrow – goodness knows what this is going to do to our tight schedule for the Thames Ring. However, you don’t mess about with your sight.

We gathered up some food at the Sainsbury’s Local and caught the bus back to Thrupp.

I cannot thank Bones enough for the help that she gave us. She used all her local knowledge and was a calm and sensible voice at a time that I was feeling quite fragile. I owe her far more than the pint that she suggested next time we meet.

To Thrupp

Wednesday 8th April 2009

Another windy day, but with blue skies and scudding clouds. The banks of the canal were thick with butterburr – which I know best as the huge rhubarb like leaves of summer, but which flower in towers of pink clusters earlier in the year. Our plan for today was to get as far as Thrupp – which Nick Atty said would take around 9 hours. We set off about 9 am – with Alan doing most of the steering. I decided it was time to do some washing, so once the water had heated up I started to wash our clothes. As I’ve said in an earlier post, we have only a very small twin tub washing machine – but it worked fine.

Banks covered with butterburr

Interesting dishes/ antennas

David trying to use the footholds on the quadrants of a lock - has the balance beam been shortened or did the maintenance crew have no idea what they were for?

We passed through stunningly beautiful countryside and arrived at Thrupp a lot earlier than we had expected. So we visited the services, and then, having moored up I did some baking, and some general clearing and cleaning, and washed the muddy footprints off the roof of the boat and gunwales. David and Alan had showers using the water from the calorifier (which didn’t really quite last through for both of them), and I had a shower using our new morco – fine, no problems.
Alan repaired the puncture I got working up the Napton flight, and cycled off to check out the area – and met up with Bones and Maffi who were going off to see Proper Job.
After dinner – to the pub.
Distance: 15.7 miles; Locks:10

Total Distance:106.9; Total Locks: 79

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

On past Banbury

Tuesday 7th April 2009

Today has been somewhat trying – we’ve all got a little tired, which never helps. There was a strange noise early this morning – I eventually decided that it was some kind of water bird, but until I worked that out I was up and looking out of the window trying to work out what the noise was in the early grey dawn. Alan couldn’t sleep, so went for an early morning constitutional along the towpath.

I managed to crush a finger in the front doors, leaving me with a livid bruise across the nail, and a nagging pain all day. Then I managed to step off the boat onto an insecure towpath at Banbury – and got my right leg into the cold canal up above the knee. I should have known better – it’s one of those kind of things that only tends to happen if you are a bit tired, and your concentration goes a bit.

It’s been a superbly beautiful day – blue skies filled with fluffy white cumulus clouds – the fields beneath, green with new growth or red-brown recently ploughed soil. The canal has been a steely blue, winding from one lift bridge to another. However, we have been working into a cruelly biting wind all day. Which has blown us back into the towpath whenever we have tried to move out to enter a lock.

We passed Nightwatch at Clattercote and at Cropredy nb Alnwick. At Boughton a boat ‘let go’ in a great rush ahead of us as we came out of the lock, then proceeded to travel at a snail’s pace to the next lock. Is there any etiquette about pulling out ahead of another boat? Or is it just a case of if you can get ahead then you can behave as you like? I don’t suppose I’d challenge anyone anyway. I just fume inside.

We filled with diesel at Banbury – Sovereign Boatyard – which was considerably cheaper than other diesel we have seen on this trip. We were offered the free eggs there, but already had more eggs than we can reasonably use. Then we moored near bridge 168 in order for me to visit the Morrison’s supermarket – as someone used to Waitrose prices I was very pleasantly surprised.

We ended up near Kings Sutton – which is near to the M40 motorway and a fairly busy railway. Across the fields is a constant stream of lorries, outlined in lights - some of them with an electric blue stripe along the top. It's only now that I realise that lorries no longer have just headlights.

In our attempts to find a reasonably quiet mooring we pushed on further and further in the gathering gloom, while a nearly full moon rose over the fields. We are now somewhere near Adderbury, the roar of the motorway to the left of us, and the drone of traffic on the Aynho road to the right. We are a good three feet from the towpath, and David is the only one of us who feels confident to spring across the gap.

The stretch to Fenny Compton

Sorry that this wasn't published yesterday - Alan dropped the dongle in the cut - we had to wait for it to dry out.

Monday 6th April 2009

So far I haven’t been disturbed by the dawn chorus – until today – when a blackbird positioned itself in the bush just next to our bedroom, and proceeded to shout very loudly about the sun rising.

We headed through Braunston tunnel, and then down toward the town At lock 3 by the Admiral Nelson (where workmen were replacing doors – presumably as part of the re-opening), a family turned a full lock ahead of us, although I was walking down towards them. I’m too much of a wimp to challenge people about this, I’m afraid they’ll tell me to *%$# off. Turning locks because you happen to be the first person there seems to be a rising trend – at Stoke Hammond a boat turned a lock ahead of us although we were approaching – we saw them look back to us, and then turn it anyway – I could take that, it was the fact that the steerer then said, “sorry, about the lock, we didn’t see you coming”. Perhaps there is a lot of water about at the moment, but that isn’t always the case. I can’t see why you can’t wait a few minutes, to me it’s just good manners.

We got the centre line loop welded at Braunston Boat Services, while I went shopping for a few essential supplies in Braunston. Then we carried on through Braunston Puddle Banks. Under one of the bridges a team of workmen were repairing the bridge – which included power washing it. They didn’t seem to think it was necessary to turn the power wash off, or let us know that it was safe for us to continue – eventually we continued on under the bridge, through the gritty spray. At Wigram’s turn we carried on towards Oxford, past the gnarled old pollarded willows. I haven’t been down this section of canal for 40 years – it seems incredibly rural, with sheep and gambolling lambs grazing in the old strip farmed fields – a relic from medieval farming methods.

Napton Windmill

We worked up the Napton Flight, although we, and several other boats, were delayed by a team of workmen who were transferring stones from one boat to another with a grab. I used the time to wash the brick dust off the boat.

In fields by one of the locks there were felled pylons.
Dead pylon

Further up the flight we passed Vesta coming down - beautiful. It was built in 1935 with its original National engine.

After the flight we were on the long summit – Alan hates lock free sections, so I wrapped up warm against the now biting wind, and steered while he went off for a shower. The Southern Oxford is a contour canal, hugging the same level around the hillsides, making it extremely winding. At times you can be facing due East, and a short while later South West.

We got as far as Fenny Compton, and moored as near as possible to the bank given the shallow edges to the canal – and then went to the Wharf Inn, where this interesting wooden object adorns the wall. We guessed what it is - any takers?

Miles: 19.7 Locks: 15
Total distance:75.5 . Total locks: 54 locks.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sunday 5th April 2009

We woke up to bright sunshine – Alan got up and started to make coffee. The boat was cold, and bed was warm so I languished, stretching out into the warm space vacated by Alan. A few pointed comments finally got me up, but we were later starting than the last couple of days. It wasn’t very warm outside, but it was bright and sunny, and we had four or five miles before the Stoke Bruerne flight. I made up some seedy brown bread dough, and put it into a warm place to rise.

We worked up Stoke on our own, with the birds filling the air with their song. In particular the see-sawing song of the Great Tits – like a squeaky bicycle pump. There were very few other boats moving. That is one thing that has really surprised us – the fact that so few boats seem to be moving yet. A couple of locks up the Stoke Bruerne flight I went on to help at the lock above, where we did see two boats were coming down - one of which had blues music playing very loudly. While I was there Alan had a problem – we had broken the loop for the centre line – a big problem, as we use the centre line a lot. After some discussion we decided to press on to Braunston and hope that someone there could do a repair for us.

Blisworth Tunnel seemed wetter than we have seen it previously, Alan was very wet at the end of it, despite a Barbour coat and a Tilley hat. While he steered I shaped the bread into small rolls, ready to cook when we were out again.

We ate lunch on the go again – hot rolls stuffed with melting cheese, and we kept on through the many lockless miles. At around five pm we got to the bottom of the Buckby flight, only to see the lock ahead being filled.

I walked up to the lock, to find an apologetic middle aged couple who had waited for an approaching boat for some time, only to have it turn into the marina – so they turned the lock, thinking that they might wait all day for a boat travelling up the flight.

They turned out to be an excellent couple to work up the flight with, the woman went on and set all the locks ready for us, and we steamed up. They headed off towards Watford Gap and we turned towards Braunston. I persuaded Alan that if he wanted any food before midnight then we had to moor this side of the tunnel – which we did. There is major work going on from the top of Buckby nearly as far as the tunnel to upgrade the towpath – with ‘no mooring’ signs the whole way, so we moored just short of the tunnel.

Tomorrow, Braunston and beyond.

Since Leighton Buzzard I have been retracing the journey I did 40 years ago at Easter, when my family, and some friends hired the 8-berth 50-foot Olive from Wyvern Shipping and got as far as Banbury on the Southern Oxford, before turning back again. In those days there were still some working boats around (Alan has published some of the photos of these on the Internet). I’m hoping that it will be possible to work out some of the locations from the transparencies that were taken then. Olive’s water was gravity fed from a galvanised tank on the roof – it must have been quite revolting on a hot day.

On the topic of water, the calorifier that Alan fitted is working very well, we’ve got hot water when we want it, and the showers are good – the only person who has complained is David (6’ 2”), who says that the shower head needs to be higher up. As it is as high as it can be I think that he just doesn’t know when he has got life easy – he could have had Olive from 40 years ago – with no showers, and only limited amounts of lukewarm water from a roof tank.

Distance: 23.1. Locks: 14 locks
Total distance:55.8 . Total locks: 39 locks.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Onward to Thrupp Wharf

Saturday 4th April 2009
We woke up to another misty morning. Across the canal, in an old orchard, a woodpecker could be heard hard at work – the drumming noise a cross between an adenoidal snore and a creaking door.

After our first fix of coffee, and a hasty breakfast, we set off North through Slapton lock, the weather slowly transforming from an overcast grey to bright sunshine with scudding clouds. At Leighton we stopped at the canalside Tesco’s for supplies, and then headed on past Wyvern Shipping, where the hire boats were still moored 3 deep – some of them go out on Friday, but we understand that most of them leave on Saturday afternoon.

At Soulbury, Three Locks, the pub has had a revamp – one of the side ponds has been covered over with decking, with huge parasols over the seating areas, which were flapping wildly in the strong wind. There is also an outside bar, with three pumps – two of Fosters and one of 1664 – clear who the target market is there then.

At Stoke Hammond we were pleased to see that Allan Jones, of Keeping Up – who we know through the Canal World Forum - was on board doing some work on the boat, so we breasted up, and stood on the gunwales, drinking coffee and eating cakes, while putting the world to rights. Afterwards, we carried on, through Fenny Stratford and on though the many winding, lockless miles around Milton Keynes until we arrived at Cosgrove lock. Since we passed a completely sleepless night there a few years ago I refuse to moor there. Cosgrove is home to a huge population of Canada Geese, which cruise up and down the canal in large flotillas all night, arguing loudly with each other – it’s a bit like a running street battle going on outside.

So, we carried on to Thrupp Wharf, and moored up shortly before sunset, under pink and purple clouds.

Distance: 24.5 miles. Locks: 10 Total distance: 32.7 miles. Total locks: 25

Friday, 3 April 2009

Friday 3rd April 2009
We never seem to be ready on time to get away when we want to, so this morning found us still throwing clothes, shoes, and other necessary items into bags. Michael was left with instructions about watering the plants, and we set off. We got to the marina while it was still a bit misty, and sorted things into cupboards – amazingly everything can now be stowed. The replacement to the old bunk room actually allows us to get everything out of the way – without falling over bags, boots and other clutter – a huge improvement.

We got away at about 2:15, just as the sun was beginning to break through the mist, and headed north, across the summit. The trees are beginning to break into leaf and blossom, in the frantic energy of early spring, and a lone kingfisher regarded us from a nearby branch as we passed, instead of the usual swooping flight ahead of the boat.

Above lock 42 on the Marsworth flight.

At the bottom of the Marsworth 7 we caught up with two boats ahead of us, and followed them down through the next few locks – with them generously turning the locks behind them on our behalf.

I have been puzzled for a long time about the strange brick structure in the field next to the Marsworth 2 – it looks for all the world like a ventilation shaft to a tunnel, but the railway is clearly visible and I believe that the canal has always gone the way that it does now – so what on earth is it?

At Seabrook we caught up with ‘Jade P’ from our marina – working down several locks in the bright spring sunshine with Julie and Barry, before they moored up for the evening. As the sun moved towards the horizon it was starting to get colder, so we continued a little further, to Slapton, where we stopped, lit the stove, and cooked risotto.

It’s great to be boating again.
Distance: 8.2 miles. Locks: 15.