Monday, 3 October 2016

And so, the end is near!

Well, that is virtually it for us this year. We are now back in the marina. The exterior of the boat has had a good wash and polish, the weather remaining kind for us. Just the interior to sort out now and try to work out the logistics of emptying the boat without my car.

It has been an interesting few weeks since the last post. We have been on very familiar territory, but none the worse for that. The top pound of the Leicester line has some lovely scenery, is mostly rural, with many a mooring away from the crowds.

But. Do not hit Foxton locks on a sunny Sunday!

After leaving our mooring at Welford junction, we wended our way north. It was a bright autumnal day and still shorts weather, although Ali would dispute that... We debated whether to moor up above the locks, but decided to go for it. We were fourth in the queue and initially, it looked as if it may well be a long old day. But, once the three boats ascending had cleared, it was decided that all six waiting would proceed down.

It was however, a very slow passage. I really do not know why, as the boats ahead of us had a good number of crew, but progress was slow. The gongoozlers were out in force as well. Whilst Ali can engage with them, me sitting over a diesel engine, in the lock, is a tad more cut off from conversation. But yes, we do have a toilet!

Once at the bottom, we did a shuffle and reversed out of the junction to the visitor moorings away from the footfall and left in relative peace. On the Monday,we had arranged for Sam (Foxton Boat Services) to service the boat and our mooring allowed him to walk from his home, over the bridge, to complete this. Monday was miserable, cold and wet, so we were glad to sit tight. The only problem here was the poor telephony. We had internet, just. And TV after a bit of jiggling. I suppose it's not that surprising when you look at the geography of the area.

Later on Monday afternoon we had a phone call from Karen & Ian, NB Serenity, they were moored behind us, we knew they were heading to Foxton but didn't expect them in the rain, but they had not had not hit the rain until nearing Foxton.  We had a lovely afternoon catch up followed by an evening meal and a few drinks.  On Tuesday they were heading off up the locks so we gave them a hand (with a little hang over!), John even found a windless and used it!  At the top we were kindly rewarded with a bacon buttie before they set off towards Crick, on their journey around the Leicester ring. It was lovely to meet up with them again.  On return to Triskaideka, NB Suffolk Punch passed us, so 3 Beacon boats within the space of a mile, that doesn't happen very often!

After a few days in Foxton, we made the five mile excursion to the lovely Market Harborough. We like this market town. Not too big and with a good range of shops. We decided to moor up in the basin. This costs £10 per night, but electric is included in this. I think some resent paying for a mooring, but since the last time we were hooked up was in Bristol, we went for the luxury option. This enabled us to do a mega wash and dry, on the boat. When you consider that a launderette visit often costs us well over £20, that ability alone paid for our visit.

We had three days in the basin. Meeting up one day with Ali's niece Helen and her rapidly growing son Noah. His vocabulary is now expanding enormously. We also managed a mega shop and used the very reasonably priced local taxi to get us and our baggage back to the boat.

By Saturday morning. It was time to unhook the landline and bid farewell to this lovely town. Then the debate. Should we ascend the locks today? Well, given the internet is far better above and that as we arrived with not a boat waiting to ascend, we decided up we go. There were four boats on the way down, which enabled us to have a spot of lunch and as we waited, another boat rolled up to ascend.

We have done this flight, many many times. That is not to say we are blasé about them, as we take care in every lock, but they are very familiar. Passage is controlled by a lock keeper, assisted by volunteers who now form the bulk of the staff. They are present to police the movement and advise and assist when required. The helmsperson always remains in control. It very nearly went badly wrong for us!

Now I should state, that I am not a CRT or volunteer detractor by any means. But...

It all started well. Me at the helm and Ali actually working the locks. Entering the lower staircase we began the ascent. About half way up the first staircase, I had entered the upper chamber. There was some form of obstruction preventing the gates closing behind me, very possibly a pipe fender or the like. No amount of jiggling or prop wash appeared to be able to shift it, so Ali went to look for one of the CRT staff to assist. Both of us imagined a Keb (a long handled rake like tool) would be employed in an attempt to remove the obstruction. So I sat in the upper chamber with the gates open behind me awaiting development's.

A pair of volunteers arrived. Ali explained the problem and without any consultation, one was instructed by the other to open the paddle in the lower chamber. And I do mean fully open! I suddenly became aware that the boat was being drawn rapidly backwards into the rapidly emptying lower chamber. Now a number of things computed here. Am I going to end up pivoting on the cill, then plunging down into the rapidly emptying chamber being the primary thought. I engaged near full power to maintain the boat in the upper chamber, whilst shouting for the paddle to be dropped Now! Ali was having the same conversation. Ali can be extremely forceful when required.

The paddle was dropped and the relief was palpable. It appears the intention was to drop me onto the floor of the upper chamber, thus exposing the cill and the offending obstruction. Apart from the fact that this put both me and the boat in jepordis, it was the total lack of any communication that was really concerning.

The obstruction cleared by possibility dropping into the lower chamber whilst I was engaging full power to maintain position . I probably blew it off with manic prop wash! Anyway, our equilibrium restored, we carried on up without further drama. That is not to say we were not perturbed by the incident and the more we thought of the possible consequences, the more we believed that this must be reported. An incident report was duly submitted and we have had an initial contact from a chap called Lee King! ( You really could not make it up!)

With hindsight, this was the nearest we have ever been to sinking. That was a very sobering experience and somewhat scary.

So Sunday we rested and went to the pub. Then we wended south, calling into Welford as a diversion and to make use of the services. We were due to enter the Marina on Saturday, but the good weather we were enjoying was due to end then, so we decided to go in early. This has enabled us to wash and polish in sunshine and also attend a rugby match. We must be talismans, as Northampton won, just.

The forecast rain arrived on Saturday, so a good move to call it a day a little earlier. We have jobs to complete over the next few weeks, but effectively our summer cruise is now over. Bar a resume of the year, it's time to put the blog to bed for a while.

40 miles.
22 locks.
4 moveable bridges
Husband's Bosworth tunnel x 2

Saturday, 17 September 2016

A tight squeeze up the South Oxford. Then home waters.

On Sunday morning, the rain had cleared, as had the clouds somewhat. It was a fleece day, but at least the rain wear remained on the hooks. Time to bid farewell to Banbury. With the aroma of baking bread and coffee wafting us out, we departed.

We again had a sort of schedule. Ali was departing for a long weekend away in York with the female clan members, so the idea was to head for Braunston, collect yet another hire car, then for me to sit tight. That meant a slow bimble up from Banbury.

 The first day saw us mooring just before the summit of the Claydon flight. Well, two locks down actually, one of our favoured mooring's. It remained surprisingly quiet boat wise, even though the weather was on the up and the end of the school holidays was fast approaching. This usually signals a rapid exit from the marina's of the "Silvertops". But it appears, not just yet!

The next day, up the two locks and onto the long summit pound. What struck us most since we were last here in early May, was the rapid growth in the bankside shrubbery. It was somewhat choked then, but even worse now, restricting the navigation severely in places. Luckily, the traffic remained light. The Fenny Compton tunnel would have been a nightmare with more traffic as it was so overgrown, but we negotiated this without any dramas, that was until we reached the bend near the marina. We had slowed to a crawl rounding the bend, aware of the linear moorings and narrow passage. But this did not prepare us in meeting a boat on the wrong side, who made no effort to move over, forcing us into a hawthorn bush! God help anyone they meet in the tunnel...

After topping up, we continued the meandering course, following the contours, eventually mooring for the day near Knott's bridge, with splendid views over the valley and with Napton windmill topping the skyline in the distance. This was the start of Ali's foraging for blackberries. They are super abundant this year, not so the Sloes, which have cropped poorly.

The next day, it was the Napton flight. We expected this to be busy and in fact there was a queue for the first lock. But the traffic was nearly all one way. After the initial block of boats began the descent, we did get moving, but very slowly. It seemed to take an interminable time to complete the descent of what is but a short flight of narrow locks! Because of this, we decided to moor up near the now defunct Bridge inn. These usually popular moorings were completely vacant upon our arrival, such is the effect of the pubs closure.

Next stop, Braunston. Initially, we stopped just before getting to the Boathouse PH. But, as the moorings are only 48 hours and I would be resident for longer, we reversed back, then back some more, until just before bridge 88, we found the right spot. Clear of the road, not under trees, with a fine view of the church and an easy walk in to the village. My abode for the weekend sorted. After collecting the hire car on Thursday, Ali abandoned me...

The following Monday, we bimbled back down towards Napton. We know a spot were the bank is low, enabling a spot of TLC to be rendered below the gunwale to the battle scars from the summer. The weather had turned again, from very warm, to blooming hot! I was a little under the weather from something I had eaten I think, so Ali completed some touching up on the starboard side whilst I snoozed! The next day, we made a hop to the winding hole near Napton junction, the returned to the same mooring to complete the port side. This area had a super abundance of blackberries and so we harvested a good supply for the freezer.

This area really is the super highway of the canal network. Boats were passing us in waves whilst we were moored. The good weather obviously temped many to sever their umbilicals and exit the many marinas in this area. On Wednesday, it was no different as we approached Braunston once again. But, once we had turned towards the locks, it was a different world. We used the services without a queue, stopped for a shop and then for fuel at Union Carriers below the bottom lock. Hardly a boat moving. Then fortuitously, we found a lock mate to ascend the broad locks. Through the tunnel we passed only one boat, but it was the smokiest passage we have ever made through it. You could hardly see!

How cute?

Our mooring for the day was a spot near Welton Hyde marina. The next day saw an easy passage up Watford locks. We arrived just as the descending block of boats were reaching the bottom, so had only a short wait which we used to water up. By the time we began the ascent though, three boats had arrived behind us. Once at the top, we used the services, then after another smokey passage through Crick tunnel, we moored up just prior to The Moorings. As we were staying on Friday in order to pay a quick visit to family, this spot allowed us to hop to the services before moving off on Saturday. It was in the lee of trees though, but not directly under them, so whilst we has some leaf fall to clear, we did not have any seasonal purple bird poo!

So after spending the late afternoon and evening at Jane & Paul's, seeing the children and once again having a great meal, we returned to the boat. We had missed the storms over the previous 24 hours thankfully, but the weather had certainly broken. By Saturday morning, it was cold, with a fine drizzle which started not long after we cast off. By early afternoon we called it a day and moored up near the junction with the Welford arm.

The summer cruise is sadly, nearing its end. Time to start thinking of home and I suppose, replacing the stolen car. Something of a reality check from our world on the water.

54 miles & 34 locks, Braunston tunnel & Crick tunnel

Saturday, 3 September 2016

and back to the Muddy Ditches and DIY locks ........

On the Thursday we made a good start, going once again down river. This is now becoming familiar territory, but none the worse for that. The plan was to arrive at Abingdon before the forthcoming bank holiday rush.

Once watered up above Abingdon lock, we were set for the weekend. Down the lock and moored up on the town side by the Lido. The plan was for Jane & Paul to visit on Friday. The weather looked good for it, a lot better than the day after was forecast. So we pottered, sat in the sunshine and enjoyed watching the passing boat traffic, even allowing a hotel boat to breast up to us for a few hours. Arriving before lunch gave us the choice of moorings, all occupied by mid afternoon.

On Friday, we welcomed our visitors. Had a wander and a wee drink, then back to the boat for nibbles and a sit in the sun. Jane reckoned she burnt her knees. That's her story anyway! Then off to the Nags Head, situated on an island in the river for a late afternoon meal before we waved them farewell.  Lovely to see them and have a good catch up.

Saturday was as predicted, dire. Chilly, wet and windy, with thunder rumbling around. So we sat tight and weathered it. By Sunday morning, whilst still not warm and with a low cloud base and mizzy rain showers, it was time to go. The journey back up river was not too bad though and the showers petered out by the time we reached Osney lock. Unfortunately, no room at the inn above the lock and so it was time to bid Father Thames farewell.

 Up Isis lock and back on the cut. We managed to moor up at Jericho, handy for the town centre. The weather had looked up, with the sun shining, so we did the tourist thing and wandered around admiring the magnificent architecture. In the evening, we wandered down to The Punter for a farewell meal. Sad to be leaving the Thames, it and the weather has been very kind to us during our visit.

The Blavatnik School of Government

Catching the fish in the weir stream and sheltering from the heat

Is it me? 

On Monday, with the fine weather holding, we decided to begin the move up the South Oxford canal. Since we travelled down in May, the offside trees and bushes have certainly shown a growth spurt, somewhat restricting the channel width. This is exacerbated by the lines of moored boats in places, the remnants of the once many that used to inhabit most of the bank into Oxford. Many now appear to have migrated to side channels of the Thames and Duke's Cut and a somewhat sad and depressing sight they make.

The Elizabeth Jennings bridge has been transformed by the Oxford Canal Mural Project since we came this way in May, the mural is great, although I didn't get a picture from the boat so walked back so one side is in a few photos!

We moved on, out of the conurbation and through the ever popular Thrupp. It was rammed and a good job our intent was not to stop. Then onto the river Cherwell for a while, before ascending back onto the canal at Enslow. The going was however, a tad slow though. A lady single handing was ahead of us and unfortunately, her method of travel was for others to assist her at every lock. But hey ho. Our destination for the day was near Tackley, where the canal and river Cherwell almost kiss. A lovely rural spot. We moored up overlooking the river and a meadow backing onto a wooded hillside. As the light dimmed during the evening, we were chuffed to see several Roe deer enter the meadow to graze. Some pictures, but the light was fading. A brilliant sight though, repeated the following morning, until the dog walkers appeared.

On Tuesday, we excelled in dawdling. We only travelled about four miles, before mooring up just outside of Lower Heyford. The weather was glorious and it seemed a good idea to sit out in the sun and enjoy it.

Not much fruit on the trees but lots of hops in the hedgerows

Getting to that time of year, misty mornings 

We have been on a schedule of sorts. Jane & Paul are celebrating 40 years of marriage and a surprise party was arranged for Friday evening. With this in mind, our intent was to arrive in Banbury by Thursday, in order to use the services of Enterprise vehicle hire, situated conveniently next to the canal and virtually in the town centre. So Wednesday saw us virtually completing the journey, but not quite. We had planned to stop a lot further short of the town, but ended up near bridge 172, a delightful spot if you ignored the rumble of the motorway. This meant that we had but a short hop on Thursday morning.  We made use of the services, ascended the lock and found Banbury virtually empty of boats!  So we picked a mooring, slotted in and had a wander.

Somerton Deep, which was causing problems as the gate wasn't opening fully, 
the boat infront of us got well and truly stuck

for sale with 60' mooring 

Then we got Twizzled! Sue & Quentin were in Leamington and had a sixth sense moment, feeling that we must be in the Banbury area, and we were! So they hopped on a train and were with us by mid afternoon. Needless to say, we ended up in a pub for the rest of the day, almost. So as usual, Quentin and I ended up supporting our respective partners home... Great to meet up once again and as usual, a good time was had.

On Friday we collected the car from Enterprise. It was a rather underpowered Clio, but it did the job fine. We travelled to Wellingborough that evening and met up with the family in a rather nice Italian restaurant. Much to the surprise of Jane and Paul. So thank you to Helen and Graham for arranging it and once more, congratulations to J & P for your special anniversary.  Three couples around the table have all celebrated their Ruby wedding this year, must have been a good year for it, as well as the sun in 1976!

Some of the gathering last night

I have no recollection of the journey back, it's an age thing. Ok, a drink or two might have helped...

The forecast for Saturday was not good. Ok in the morning, horrid afternoon. So after completing a shop utilising the car and then returning it, we decided to sit tight. By midday, the rain arrived, so it was provident that we had not planned to move on.

We are now sadly, on the home straight. I suppose I will have to start contemplating replacing the stolen car!

45 miles, 26 locks, 21 moveable bridges of which 15 are left open, made up of 27 miles of narrow canal, 17 miles of river, 8 large locks and 18 narrow locks.