Wednesday, 12 September 2018

And now, the end is near...

From the bottom of Napton locks, to our marina mooring, is but ten miles. Ten miles we are very familiar with. But it is time to bite the bullet. We have commitments from the middle of the month, taking us into early October. The weather remains kind, but we do yearn for the little things.

Like flushing a toilet without emptying a cassette. Having a long hot shower without worrying that you are using all the hot water. And not checking the state of charge of the battery bank every time a light is switched on!

Living on a canal boat is enchanting, but for us, there comes a time when home calls.

Considering our mileage and lock usage this year, the boat is showing little in the way of  war wounds. Those that we have are below the gunwhale, always the area prone to impact. Surprisingly, most damage was sustained on the Thames.  Low water levels and lock landings more suited to river based boats took it's toll. A few scrapes and scratches. If we return, larger fenders may be advisable.

So we set off from Napton, aiming to find a location where we could touch up the paint, turn around, touch up the other side, then turn again! We found this at the Bridge moorings. Once a popular pub, now being converted to a residence, it has a winding hole. The sun was out, the traffic light. We moored up, trimmed the bank side vegetation and Ali got the sandpaper out. Quick rub down, paint on, then turn her around and do the other side. After having lunch, we turned again and headed for Braunston.

Traffic was light, but there were numerous moored boats. Braunston is something of a canal Mecca. Be it the number of nearby marinas and hire bases, or the winter moorings on offer, boats gravitate here. We had a sedate chug around the bends, passing Wigrams turn and then the ever popular moorings near Flecknoe . At the junction, for us, it was a left turn, away from the hub that is Braunston and out into open country.

We found a mooring sheltered from the increasing wind, halfway to our final destination. Even out in the sticks, the Braunston effect was apparent. It was busy, but we found a free spot. At this time of year, not being under a tree is truly advantageous. Birds eat fruit, mainly blackberries and elderberries, then they evacuate! Makes a fair mess if you are beneath a roost. So we were safe here. Shit happens, but best to avoid when at all possible!

We are so near our marina here, but loathe to go in. Nothing wrong with our mooring in Dunchurch, but it is akin to being in a boat/car/caravan park. You have lost your freedom. So we are putting off going in until the last minute.

But, we had to face it. The time had come for us. We always intended to be in the marina in time for the BBQ being held on the 15th and then we have a family wedding later in the month. So with the weather forecast to turn, we cast off and made the slow chug in. The wind was rising somewhat, so we knew the very exposed marina would make manoeuvring interesting!

First stop on our way in was onto the service pontoon. This has a highly efficient Elsan point. Then, noting the prevailing wind direction, we rounded the island so we were head into the wind and slotted into our home mooring. Appears we have new neighbours,  but no one home upon our arrival.

As we are only going to be off the boat for a few days, we loaded the car with perishables and clothing, then bade her farewell. Whilst she has fared well this year, we will be back to give her a thorough wash and polish before autumn truly sets in. So it's off home, back to reality and planning our 2019 cruise.

For those interested, our travel stats for this year are shown to the right of this page. We have thoroughly enjoyed our trip this year, revisiting very familiar waters, some not so frequently navigated and even some new. The weather has been extremely kind to us and it's hard to think of many days when winds or heavy rains prevented us moving.

Time now to fettle the boat . She is due her bottom blacked and a BSS completed next year, so time to organise that now. But first, the engine needs a service. 4750 hours on the clock now. Just about bedded in!
A fabulous summer!

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Up an Over!

So back on the South Oxford. Don't get us wrong, this remains a lovely canal, but the lower section does require a good deal of maintenance. We were soon to be reminded of this!

I had hovered under the bridge exiting Dukes cut, whilst Ali went to set the lock. There was a small narrowboat moored on the lock landing, with no one around. The lock was empty, but the gate was closed. Ali opened the bottom gate and in we went. At this point a lass came down the tow path. It was her boat on the landing and, unable to open the gate, she had gone looking for assistance . We continued up and out of the lock, then Ali assisted her in and up the lock.  Turns out she had owned the boat for a year but her only lock experience had been on the Thames. Having to work locks herself, all 6 stone wet through of her, was somewhat daunting. She was heading for Yorkshire! Well three locks out of Oxford was enough for her as she called it a day. Going to be a long trip methinks!

It's a pity she stopped really, because a short way past the permanent moorings is Drinkwaters lift bridge. As we approached, there were two boats waiting on the other side and three people standing around looking somewhat perplexed. It appears someone has removed the counter weights so that once lifted, it would not stay in place. In fact it took three people one to lift then two to sit on the arms to allow transit under said bridge. It was a slow process to get all three boats through and somewhat hazardous. None of us were young, but we were by far the youngest crew.  One lady slightly injured her foot as the arm came down on it. There is no way someone single crewed could tackle it, like the young lass behind us.

Anyway, we finally got through and made our way towards Thrupp once again. Surprisingly, we once again easily moored, this time right outside the Boat PH.

Ever since we came down the Oxford , we have been in fear of its closure due to a potential leak in the pound containing Twyford wharf . So we set off intending to get to the other side of this. If it was to close, it would be a long trip home, down the Thames and up the Grand Union. But first we needed the services just under the now electric lift bridge. The bonus for us was that Dusty, the fuel boat, was on the service wharf, just having taken a diesel delivery and awaiting a coal load. So we breasted up, filled with fuel and water and emptied the nasties. Job well done.

Just out of Thrupp there is another lift bridge. This was decrepit on our way down. What a vast improvement! They have wrapped it in red and white tape! At least it was fixed in the up position. We subsequently found that this was only very recently as N.B.Paneke had found to their cost when the open bridge descended upon then as they passed under it. Fortunately only their tiller pin was damaged!

After Shipton weir lock, we were back on a river for a short while, this time the Cherwell. But the deeper waters soon ended. Up Bakers lock, we were back onto the canal proper again. The locks are isolated and infrequent now. Dodging the overhanging trees and expanding reed beds,  we continued North. Apart from Lower and upper Heyford, which are themselves only villages, this is a very rural section. After ascending Somerton deep lock and negotiating the slalom of overgrowth and oncoming boats, we called it a day on a splendid mooring just shy of Aynho, with just sheep for company.

anyone know anything, they have been there a long time and look like miniature totem poles

it's that time of year

It was the day to negotiate our potential nemesis,the low pound containing Twyford wharf. We passed Aynho Wharf, negotiated Anyho weir lock, crossed the Cherwell and approached Nell bridge lock. As we did so, a passing boater informed us that the pound above was now passable, CRT staff having run down water. We ascended the lock. Whilst the pound was still down, it was better than when we came down, so off we went.

Passing the permanent offside moorings by the wharf though, one of the residents said the water level that morning hardly sustained the fish! There is something seriously amiss here. There must be a leak, I suspect into the river Cherwell which flows adjacent to and below the canal. We wasted no time transmitting this pound and once up Grants lock, felt relieved. A quick stop in Banbury for essentials (Wine!) and we were again off into rural Oxfordshire . Just below Slat mill lock, a tempting piece of piling called to us, so we moored up, just cows for company tonight.

Our last day ascending now, before we hit the summit pound and begin our way down. After the initial rush of several boats descending the lock, coming from the Cropredy moorings and marina, we upped pins just as a boat was leaving the lock and slotted in.  After a short wait, we made use of the services at Cropredy. These do not improve with age! The bins were overflowing and the Elsan point was disgusting.

The locks are now fairly relentless. In themselves, they are easy to operate, just one after another. So close together that Ali walked the majority of the days journey, between each lock. The actual traffic though, diminished. We were trying to get up the Claydon locks to the summit, ahead of the forecast change in the weather. Rain was predicted by 1400hrs. We exited the top lock by 1330, then after three attempts, found a mooring with a straightish bank and enough water depth. Moored up, pram hood up, had lunch and the rains came, pretty much on time! If we can, we dodge the rain if possible. It's mainly hire boats moving in the downpours, because they have to keep to schedule. Done that, got the T shirt.

On the plus side, a Rose narrowboat work boat  Slough, went by, pushing a skip containing a large industrial shredder. Perhaps work cutting back the foliage lower down the Oxford is imminent.

After the previous evenings downpour, we awoke to a clear but decidedly chilly morning. Blue sky, but a chill wind. Ok when in the sun, but freezing in the shade. Still persisting with my shorts though!

Amazing bracket fungus

As we set off, we swapped estimates as to how many boats we would pass. We had several lock free miles to go, including the narrows before Fenny Compton. Approaching the start of the latter, we met a boat exiting. This is the top pound of the canal, always a little shallow, but to be fair, it was fine. We managed the whole length of the narrows without meeting another boat! As this is for some the start of their post school holiday season, we were a little surprised just how quiet it was. The moorings at Fenny were empty, as were those at Wormleighton.  One became almost blase rounding the severe bends on this archetypal contour canal. But not too much, as you never know. By lunch time, we reached the top of the locks at Marston Doles. One boat moored, one just exiting the top lock.

The clouds had built, but it remained dry, if a little chilly. We began the descent. No sign of boat movement, so we took our time. In fact, between locks, Ali managed to collect a couple of pounds of blackberries.  They are super abundant here at the moment. We slowly descended. Lock nine has a problem in that one wall bows in, restricting the width. Not a problem for us, slim young things (Not!), but it was fenders up to mitigate our width, policed attentively by two CRT volunteers.  I did point out to them that we just about floated in the previous pound, so off they trotted.

Descending lock 8, we were down. Our last lock for some time. We made use of the services below, then pottered past the full visitor moorings. In the duration of our journey this day, we had passed ten boats. So not busy. But the moorings here tell a tale. Half the boats were from Napton and on hire. They will be due back Saturday morning, so this is a good place to stop. Plus, it has the Folly pub to round off their holiday. We spotted a final free mooring, slotted in and decided a trip to the Folly sounded a Jolly good idea. And very nice it was too.

He was really enjoying the hawthorn berries

the bulging lockside

Total distance 46 miles 38 locks, 5 moveable bridges

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

A farewell to decrepitude, for a while!

The weather forecast for Sunday turned out to be absolutely spot on. It was wet and miserable all day. I only wish our meal at The Boat made up for it. Very disappointing.

Anyway, Monday dawned a lot brighter and dry! It was time to move off and into Oxford. Truth to tell, the journey in was not really that pleasurable. The bottom half of the South Oxford appears in dire need of basic maintenance.  It is shallow, overgrown and the lift bridges are in a dire condition. On the trip into the city, almost every lock had a bottom gate paddle unserviceable,  so progress was slow. The first lift bridge after the Dukes cut junction, would not balance and had to be propped up with a boat pole.  Downright dangerous. So we plodded on slowly, passing the numerous permanent moorings and dodging the overhanging trees.

By the time we got to Jericho,  just above Isis lock, we called it a day and moored up. We were virtually opposite College Cruisers base. We had debated dropping down onto the river, but decided against it in case the Osney moorings were full. Wish we had by the next morning. Not only were we right on the railway, but a loud diesel generator ran all night.

We did manage a walk around Oxford in the late afternoon, always a pleasure admiring the ancient buildings.

Apparently - all the 13 Emperors heads have different beards!

Next day, we dropped down onto the river. Deep calm waters again! After a chat with the locky at Osney lock and purchasing a seven day licence,  we were on our way. Surprisingly, this locky remembered us from our last visit two years ago!

we have seen so many Kingfishers on the Thames

We were quite surprised how quiet the river was. Our intention was to head for Abingdon, arriving early in the day in order to stand a chance of a mooring. This is a very popular destination and has good free moorings, unusual for the Thames. You can stay for up to three days as well. We watered and emptied at the services above the lock, then dropped down.

We had a choice of moorings before the bridge, but elected for a spot on the town side next to the outdoor swimming pool. An easy walk into town and for shopping. We went for a stroll and found virtually no boats on the visitor moorings below the bridge! A meal at the Nags Head situated mid river finished off the day.

So the rivers are as quiet as the canals this year. All very odd.

As we only had a seven day licence, we pootled down river the following day. It is so nice to be back on the Thames again. The waters remain deep, well compared to the canals and with a hardly perceptible flow, the going was easy. Throughout our visit, the weather remained kind. Warm during the day, but not the wall to wall sunshine we got used to. But it is late summer and the nights are drawing in.

It's all very civilised on the Thames.  A great variety of boats, mainly manned locks and pleasant cruising. But you do have to plan for water points and bog disposal sites, as these are somewhat infrequent. With only in reality three days out then three back, we did not venture far. Our second night above Cleeve lock amongst the thistles as our two preferred mooring we couldn't get anywhere near the bank. 

could live in this boat house

Moulsford Railway Bridge

The following day onward to Beale park, just short of Pangbourne where we spun her around and moored for the night.

We began the return journey on a Friday. Quick stop at Goring for a wander around the village, and an equally brief chat with Carol & George from WB Still Rockin, who were just leaving to go to Beale Park!  There was a weekend of music at Wallingford, so we knew the river traffic would increase somewhat, all heading for the somewhat limited town moorings. We could not find a space coming down river and going up, well it was rammed with boats moored three/four deep. How did the Environment Agency prepare for this migration? They gave all the lock keepers the day off apparently. We muddled through, but without the keepers to effectively police transits, it did become a little muddled at times, with a rare mixture of steel boats of all shapes and sizes, plastic boats of a similar variety with the odd canoe & kayak thrown in for good measure.

I must say, barring the goose poo, one of our favourite moorings this trip was just above Days lock. We found a straight piece of bank, with a good depth of water and settled in. Signs have been placed since our last visit, inviting you to pay £8 per day for mooring, by either paying the farmers representative,  or phoning to make payment! We would gladly pay if someone came to collect, but sorry, we are not chasing to make payment or giving card details out over the phone.  Assume its due to the signs, but we were alone on the once popular moorings.

Next day, it was back to Abingdon. A little busier than our last visit, but it was the weekend, so that's to be expected. We still easily found a mooring and just HAD to revisit the Nags Head!

Sunday was our penultimate day on the river. We set off needing water. No problemo, as there are full services above Abingdon lock, whose ascent we shared with a fellow narrowboater.  He also needed water. There is but one, slow tap here. It turned out that as we arrived, a boat was already filling, another waiting, then us two! So fourth in the queue were we. It was slow going though.

We wended our way up river, now in trip boat country. Large beasts, but creating very little wash. The locks are again manned. This helps as securing lines whilst deep in the lock can be a little tricky if blind lassoing is not your forte. It's not mine, so we were ever grateful for assistance.

A sponsored Breast Cancer Walk starting in Abingdon,we didn't think there were very many walkers then realised Abingdon is the start of the 25 mile walk!

Its not on fire, there was a BBQ on the back deck!

Soon we were in the pleasant outskirts of Oxford once again, dodging day hire motor boats and punts, which zipped about somewhat haphazardly.  All part of the fun though. Then, up Osney lock again and thankfully, we found a free mooring right outside a rather nice pub, called The Punter. Whilst this is riverside, it's not pretentious.  Great beer (Speckled Hen on tap), chilled atmosphere and with a somewhat quirky menu. All rather nicely bohemian as befits this city of academia . Morse would have loved it! We missed out on Sunday lunch, but enjoyed our meal none the less.

never realised that the Hydro is a community project

Our final day on the river dawned bright. After our experience coming down the canal into the city, we decided to take an alternative route off the river via Dukes cut. By taking this route, we bypass the congestion and failing infrastructure of the canal through the city whilst enjoying more of the river past the meadows. A much more pleasurable trip. We had two river locks to negotiate which we did on our lonesome.

A budding canoeing Banksy?

You see all sorts

Then we turned off the river proper, onto Dukes cut, linking back to the canal north of the city. As soon as we entered this, narrow and overgrown channel, it was welcome back to decrepitude. We brushed under hanging boughs, dodged fallen saplings as we tried to follow the channel. The lock approach is dark, gloomy and lined with almost forgotten boats. The residents of these living in an almost separate world. The lock actually worked fine though and exiting this, we were back on the Oxford canal.

Total distance 71 miles and 27 locks, 5 moveable bridges, madeup of 7 miles narrow canal, 3 miles of small rivers and 60 miles of large rivers, 6 narrow locks, 2 broad locks and 20 large locks