Sunday, 17 April 2011

Start Of The Journey Home

(posted by Alan)

Old Father Thames
Well, we thoroughly enjoyed Lechlade, and a rare opportunity to have had a short lay-over before starting to retrace some of our journey.  Other boaters have the opportunity to move slowly around the canal and river system at their chosen pace, often lingering for days at a time, if the fancy takes them.  However because of Cath's work we have a stark choice.  We can, of course, "potter" sometimes , but if we do, we would constantly only ever visit the same bit of canal, before we had to "potter" back to base.  If we want to go to places we only go to infrequently, then we do have to make fairly constant and good progress most days.  Here, unusually we have been somewhere completely new, so not spending a lot of time in any one place is a penalty we usually willingly pay.

So today, we knew we needed to make good progress, and although not essential to be off the upper Thames, we knew if we could get to Oxford, that would be a bonus, as we might then be able to fit in a visit into the city.

Still no unusually early start, but we were moving by 9:00 for once, although not until some time after we had seen another narrow boat already set off.

Tight Squeeze In A Lock
There are 9 manned locks on this stretch of the Thames.  All are similar, apart from their depth, longer, but not massively wider than a standard long broad canal lock, although the standards of maintenance appear far higher than say the Grand Union, with all gates immaculate, and very little water leakage.  In practice we operated more locks as "self service" than expected, which we rather like.  Either some lock-keepers take more generous than advertised breaks, or some of the locks were left without keepers today.
(Cath: when I arrived at one lock, having walked Charlie from the previous one, the "lockie"was on the weir behind the lock keeper's house, attached by a harness to a wire running the whole width of the lock, and fishing polystyrene sheets and other rubbish out from the weir)

Waiting for a lock to become free
Where a keeper is useful is in taking respon- sibility for mixed steel and fibreglass boats in the same lock.  A keeper put two wide fibreglass boats in behind us at one lock, and it was quite tight, and it looked possible that one of them could have hung it's front on the lock-side.  So, when left to our own devices, but with the same three in a tight-fit at the next lock, I kept a steady eye, that all remained well.

The smallest "boat" passed today.
The fibreglass boats can often make better progress than Chalice, although strictly they should not be, as we are more or less on the 5mph speed limit, so any boat drawing away from us is probably breaking it.  Most seem happy to go at a similar speed to us, this far up, but it is galling when you suggest they go ahead, only to be held up shortly after as they make a fudged attempt at turning and/or mooring up.

Lock keepers use a long metal shaft to move the off-side gate.
The weather has remained excellent thoughout, making this river look stunning.  Although what a difference a few hours make.  When I took Charlie for his early morning walk, he got soaked in the dew drenched grass, and my shoes were waterlogged.  When Cath walked him between two locks later on, it was very hot, and he went swimming twice to cool off.  Up until now he has never gone voluntarily in the water, so this may be a start of an unwanted trend - up until now we have dubbed him "the Spaniel that doesn't like water" - now we rather fear he could start jumping from the boat!
(Cath: on our walk between locks Charlie and I came across an older man, a tall lad, and another spaniel.  They were putting a cylindrical crayfish trap into the river.  We chatted for a while - mostly about spaniels - but I found out that they would expect to get 20 or so crayfish in the trap over night.  The man said that these days they are American Crayfish, although in his youth they had all been the native variety).

Cath works our last Oxford lift bridge for this trip
Penultimate Oxford Canal lock
We decided that, although it would add slightly to our journey time, we wanted to briefly leave the Thames via the Duke's Cut where we had entered it, and to travel through Oxford on the lowest reaches of the Oxford Canal.  Our main reason is that we have never travelled this short stretch before, and wanted to add it to the list of those we have been on.

Overnight Mooring
We are now moored on quiet moorings, but still maybe a mile's walking from the city centre.

Lechlade to Oxford (via Duke's Cut and Oxford Canal)
Miles: 29.3, Locks: 11

Total Miles: 164.0, Total Locks:93

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