Sunday, 26 August 2018

Towards the Dreaming spires.

We definitely have a screw or two loose!

After spending no more than a couple of hours on our somewhat expensive car parking lot, aka Dunchurch Pools marina,  we were off!

Don't get us wrong, as marinas go, this is a good one. Friendly staff and fellow moorers, a great location and ...

It's  still a boat park.

Fine in winter, but no place to be when the great outdoors beckons. So we did what we needed to do, then high tailed it out!

We are now heading south. How far we get will be time, weather, but more importantly,  water level dependant. We have to be back in mid September, but it's the water levels on the South Oxford that are the major concern. It has always been a shallow canal and the lack of precipitation this summer certainly hasn't helped. There are already restricted opening hours on many of the lock flights and when the kid's go back to school, gawd help us. Because then, the "Silvertops" feel safe to leave the marinas!

(Silvertop definition. Late middle aged, paunchy male, normally. Middle class, shiney boat , excessive bow thruster user. Only leave the security of marinas when the little darlings return to skool. )

Hang about! That's almost a description of me...  (Ali - not quite, but close! 😈😍)

But. It's a beautiful canal, largely rural and following the course of the river Cherwell. As a destination in itself, Oxford takes some beating, but it is also a portal onto the Thames, which we love.

So Ta Ta Dunchurch and steer south went we. Dodged through Braunston again and slowly chugged towards Wigrams turn. Had no choice really, as the all male crew of the boat ahead of us set the pace, uber slow. It was still busy on this section, but nowhere near what it was on Saturday.

We passed the junction and were now off the broad canal and onto the South Oxford proper. Almost time for Tea, so we moored for the day near the now defunct Bridge Inn at Napton. These once very popular moorings have lost their appeal since the pub closed, strangely! They are now 14 day.

Next morning we had the Napton flight to tackle. These are not hard locks, but as they climb towards the summit pound, it pays to have the timing right. We missed out there. Although it was not busy, a boat saw us approaching and rapidly untied in order to get to the locks ahead of us. No problem really, as we intended to make use of the services before ascending, whilst they went straight into the first lock near the Folly pub.

Well, we watered up and emptied, took our time and began the up. Within two locks we had caught our companions up! It's not that we were fast, just more efficient. Whilst I closed the top gates after leaving the lock, whilst Ali walked ahead to prepare the next, they concentrated on one lock at a time. It was slow going. We ended up directly behind them at every lock landing. If a boat happened to be descending, did they assist?  Nope, they waited, so Ali took the lead and walked ahead to assist. Considering there were two adults plus two children on the boat, they were very disoganised. Turns out they were borrowing the boat from a relative.

It almost came to a crunch, literally, when our companion pulled off the landing and headed for the lock, as all 70ft of the Mikron theatre boat started to exit. What went through their minds is anyone's guess, but the steerer of the Mikron boat was quite vocal (but polite)!

Anyway, up we eventually went and onto the top pound for a few miles of lock free chugging. We moored in a favoured spot near Wormleighton,  giving uninterrupted  views across the valley towards Napton. Bit like walking a coastal path on this canal, spend hours travelling, then look back and see your start point. Being a contour canal, it does twist and turn a fair bit.

Not sure if this bridge is on the maintenance plan
 but it should be the cracks are a little disconcerting

Next day we began the descent, after a few miles chug, we hit the top of the Claydon flight. A few boats moving, but still very quiet for a popular canal in August. We steadily dropped down without mishap and decided to call it a day in Cropredy.  We timed our stop to perfection, finding a good spot on the visitor moorings above the lock. This is a very pretty village. The bells of the church rang peels during the late afternoon, whilst the clock chimed the hours. Unfortunately,  not quite to time.

this is a new edition, £95 pn self catering with its own wood fired outdoor bath!

The moorings filled over the afternoon and early evening, enough going our way to make Cropredy lock a potential choke point. But next morning, we were straight into the lock as another exited. All the traffic going the opposite way, with three boats queuing in the confined space below the lock, one of which was fellow bloggers NB Chuffed, sorry it was a quick hello & no photo. We squeezed through then directly onto the services. These must have been designed by a committee,  the wharf being neither fish nor fowl as it's impossible to moor against the  wall.  But we secured bow and stern with a hollow in between and got our jobs done.
Ali's leap of death!

After chugging past the permanent moorings, it was out into open country and the slow descent into Banbury. This is the one town you hit on the South Oxford, so we moored up, did a little food shopping in the convenient M&S, then decided to move on.  All was hunky dory until we reached Grants lock. The pound below was low, very low. We dropped down and keeping centre channel and going very slowly, we reached just beyond Tywford wharf, before meeting an oncoming boat. We passed, both leaning alarmingly though and carried on. There must be a leak in this pound. The canal runs close and above the river Cherwell. Locals say it has been low for some time, whilst the rest of the canal has decent water levels. Time will tell!

low pound

After Kings Sutton lock, the levels were again fine. We bimbled on, calling it a day at Aynho Wharf. Not a boat on the visitor moorings opposite the Great Western, so moored up and booked into the pub for a meal. Not cheap, but worth it.

Next day we ploughed on south. Down Somerton deep lock was slow going and the bottom gate refused to open fully, making exit a tight squeeze.  The canal is now becoming very overgrown, both by overhanging trees and expanding reed beds. The hops balancing the trees are very common now. In places, the overgrowth makes the channel very restricted and so it was a good job it wasn't busy.

Exiting Dashwood lock has always been tricky. The lock mouth almost faces a high overgrown bank on the port side and until the full length of the boat is out of the lock, you cannot turn away from this. Normally the bywash assists in making this manoeuvre, pushing the boat away from the bank, but low water levels meant this was a mere trickle. That's my excuse anyway. Before I knew it, in turning out, the boats stern swept under the overhanging tangle of briars . My head took the full impact and my scalp and face was torn by the thorns as I struggled to steer the boat out. But worst of all, this caught our ancient and much annotated Nicholsons guide, sweeping it into the murky depths. Many a good mooring marked, now gone. A sad loss.😢

After tidying myself up and the ministrations of nurse Ali, we carried on, finishing the day in a rural location, above the river Cherwell near the village of Tackley. A great spot on a good day, but the clouds gathered and it rained during the evening. A lot more overgrown here since our last visit. Now we are not CRT bashers, but the signs on locks stating clearance work to be completed by August are clearly wrong, unless they mean August 2019!

We are into the final push now towards Oxford, but not just yet.  We aimed to stop at Thrupp. This was not very far from our overnight stop, but included a beautiful stretch dropping down onto the river Cherwell . It was great to have some water depth under the boat as we twisted down this meandering river section. Even here though, branches and overgrown bushes impeded the passage. At the oddly shaped Shipton lock, we came off the river and back onto the cut. One lift bridge before Thrupp. Unless this has some serious remedial work soon, it will collapse and no lengths of warning tape will alter its fragility. It was with not a little trepidation that I passed under this as Ali lifter this twisted contorting structure. But we got through and we need our way into this iconic hamlet.

After making use of the services, a quick right turn under the now electrically operated lift bridge brought us to the moorings. And there was space aplenty, even on the 7 day stretch! Unheard of here and especially at the start of a bank holiday weekend. We settled in as it was still just about morning, then walked to Annie's tea room for lunch, very nice it was too.

We are now in "Morse" country and the books and the tv series have been set or filmed here. As are a series of crime fiction books I have recently completed reading , by a local author, Faith Martin. The main character in these, lives on a boat in Thrupp. Not seen her yet, but strangely when out for a walk, we did see an actor leaving a boat. One of those, know the face but not his name chaps.

Sunday was predicted as wet and miserable all day. We sat tight. A short walk to the pub later seems a plan, but until then, we will keep warm and admire the tenacity of passing boaters.

Thrupp is always good for a bit of yarn bombing, 
this is great and the detail amazing.

Total distance 50 miles and 34 narrow locks, 3 lift bridges, 5 miles of broad canal and 5 miles of broad canal.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The long drop down. Then up again!

The old windlass certainly took a hammering on the Stratford and no rest now we are on the G.U. (Grand Union ).   After using the services at Kingswood junction and doing a right turn, we were once again on somewhat broader waters. Now heading towards Warwick, but not today. A certain flight of broad locks was between us and they required a nights sleep before tackling them.

We bimbled down a few lock free miles enjoying the sunshine. Just beyond bridge 62 at Rowington, the canal is carried on an embankment, with splendid views over rural Warwickshire . We found a mooring with an open aspect and settled in. Chairs out and chill. Strange to think that as the crow flies,  we are only about a mile from Lowsonford on the Stratford.

The next morning we awoke with the thought that today meant tackling the Hatton flight . 21 broad locks descending down to Warwick. Now this flight can be made easy if you find the right boat to buddy up with, or a pain if you meet the wrong one. We were very, very lucky to meet up with N.B.Nancy at the top of the flight. We had first met David and Sharon  at Tewkesbury and periodically since journeying up the Avon and Stratford. Our luck was really in meeting them again at the top of the flight. We worked like a well oiled machine. Ali and David doing the hard graft, whilst Sharon and I steered the boats.

We soon developed a swing. Nothing was rushed, but together we worked our way down seamlessly.  It was almost a pleasure, almost! These locks are relentless though, but not counting helped and before you know it, we reached the bottom in almost record time. Both of us were heading for a stay in the Saltisford canal trust arm. These splendid moorings are within easy walking distance of the town centre, have water and electrickery and all at a more than reasonable price. We even managed to get a replacement gas bottle from them!

But first the Shrewley Tunnel (with separate towpath tunnel)

Amazing Flowstones 

a much better view when you look back!

After settling in and getting the washing machine working, we all went out for a meal and a drink or two in celebration of a great passage.

The next morning, our mega wash continued. There is a laundry here as well, again at very reasonable prices, but we washed aboard then dried using their machines. Then a walk around historic Warwick . The centrepiece of this place is undoubtedly the castle. But at over £30 A head, we gave it a miss. Drawn to water as ever, we walked down the streets to the river. Visited the Mill gardens, then to the Lord Leycester Hospital. These grade 1 listed building house a charity dating back to Elizabethan times, supporting ex servicemen. One of these gave us an extensive history talk before we even set foot in the buildings. It is a fantastic place. Just don't eat there... because you will be so full, you can't make room for the delicious cakes on offer! This we found to our cost after consuming a fantastic ploughmans that set us up for the rest of the day.

Mill Gardens

Different boats on this section of the Avon!

Thoroughly enjoyed our stay, but after 48 hours, it was time to move on. We paid our minimal dues, said goodbye to the ever helpful staff and along with N.B, Nancy, made our way down two locks and then through the somewhat industrial side of Warwick and Leamington Spa.  A canal side Tesco allowed us to top up with supplies, then out of the conurbations, to moor up in a rural location.

Over the River Avon again

The next day, we said our farewells to David and Sharon. What a great couple. They were staying put for a day or so to catch up on jobs. The first lock of the day soon loomed. At least it was dry and warm ish. Luckily we managed to buddy up with another boat to ascend all the locks to Long Itchington, that's ten more broad locks under our belt. We arrived late lunch time, ate, then I had a snoozette whilst Ali read. After a walk around the village and a quick trip to the pub in order to prevent dehydration, of course,  we ate on the boat and chilled.

We really must start looking for a fuel top up soon. We  are not desperate, but since our last was near Sharpness, it is about time.

The weather forecast said it was going to be a warm one. The remnants of a tropical storms heat. Got that wrong then. It wasn't cold, but it was breezy and cloudy when we set off from Long Itchington.  We did the first two locks on our own and found they behaved very well. Tucked ourselves into the left hand wall, used the ground paddle on the same side and up we came quite gently. Only having to open one gate was also a bonus. After the second lock, we reached the water point opposite the Blue Lias public house. There is something about this water point! Last time we visited, someone was moored on it. This time, a boat was half on it. We could get in, but not secure ourselves which was a bummer, but it was quiet, so we managed to water up without too many problems.

Moving off towards the locks, we were aware of another boat behind us. They subsequently became our lock buddies up the rest of the Stockton flight. Not very organised, despite the numbers aboard, but they helped.

At the top of the flight we waved adieu as they were only heading for Ventnor Farm marina. A lot more moored boats here, but little moving. Initially, our intention was to stop before the three Calcutt locks, but nothing grabbed us, so we bimbled on.

We shared these locks with a cheerful chap in a yoghurt pot ( plastic cruiser ). He was happy to share the locks with us, unusual for this type of craft and we ascended the three without fuss.

It now became prevarication time. Wigrams turn junction loomed. Go right towards Oxford or left to Braunston?

We elected a left. We need fuel and use of the services we reasoned, but en route, decided that we will return and go towards Oxford. Work that one out!

We are now on the canal equivalent of the M1. Even more so at the weekend. There are large marinas either end of this stretch and quite a few hire bases. It being Saturday, we anticipated it being busy, but just not how much!

We dodged into a mooring near the village of Flecknoe,  got the chairs out and watched the fun and games. Well i did, whilst Ali got the paint pots out for a little touching up! It is utterly mad busy here, unlike the rest of the system in our experience this year.

on mooring up

a little later ....

Next morning, not so early, we decided that a wash load would be advantageous.  So after showering, it was travel power on, load in and wash. We were not in a rush, so letting the emigrees from the local marinas get going, was to our advantage.  It was nearly lunch time before we released the chains and chugged our way into Braunston.

Braunston is a canal hub, so always busy. We bimbled in to top up with water. The tap near the Elsan point was free, so we moored up. The Elsan point here is one of the open air variety, not contained within a building. There is a rubbish point some 250 yds  away and numerous dog poo bins dotted along the tow path.

So why o why do people dump their rubbish and poo bags at the Elsan point? Bone idleness.  At least they had not deposited them down the drain I suppose, but, come on people, it ain't hard work to walk a few yards!

We did a swift turn at the winding hole, then returned looking for a mooring. It was rather busy, but Ali spotted a potential spot just before the turn and after asking a boat to shuffle up a little, we were somewhat snugly in. After chatting to our neighbours, we made the walk to visit Julie and Geoff.

Great strides have been made by them both to make the historic N.B. Greenlaw their home. The engine is now purring and the boat has now had that feminine touch. Looking really good. Still think your bonkers, but each to their own. Great to catch up with you and hope to see you again soon.

Next morning saw us steadily chugging up the North Oxford towards Dunchurch Pools marina. This takes us roughly an hour from Braunston. A warm but somewhat cloudy day, with the occasional very light shower.

The entrance pool into the marina is circular, with visitor moorings and the service dock around its perimeter. As ever, it was windy as we arrived, but for once this was to our advantage. As we passed under the impressive entrance bridge, our prop was fouled giving us only limited propulsion, but we were wind assisted onto the service pontoon. Weed hatch up and as suspected by the noise, we had collected a rubber pipe fender along with a length of lanyard and the remnant of the plastic hook used to secure this to the hand rail. A bit of a faff to untangle,  but soon off the prop.

note the chunks out of the wall, can't believe it, its such a wide entrance

We fuelled up, 108 litres since Sharpness, which is very economical really, since this supplies propulsion, hot water and electrical power. Quick empty of the Elsan in the state of the art waste point on the service pontoon,  then we popped into our home mooring.

Deep joy to have our car to do a little shopping. Started first time as well after three months hibernation. But it ain't half strange being on the road again. Our life being governed by canal speed. We hit Sainsburys, lunched on board and could not wait to get off again, so we did!

3 miles of narrow canal, 27 miles of broad canals, 46 broad locks and Shrewley Tunnel