Wednesday, 28 September 2016

South Oxford canal, in summary

So we took 5 days to get to Lower Heyford, rather than Oxford, and 4 days to get back.  We went 61.5 miles and through 43 locks - each way.
We moored at Lower Heyford for the weekend rather than go to Oxford because Heyford is a pleasant mooring, because Oxford can be rather busy, and by cutting out out the 14 miles and 9 locks each way to Oxford we managed to replace it with a pleasant five mile walk and a 15 minute train journey.
Heyford has a very convenient station, water and rubbish facilities, a handy shop, 3 nearby pubs, a house and garden to gawp at, 2 pleasant churches, good towpath walks and a very fine tithe barn.
We enjoyed the Oxford Canal southern branch, very much and would recommend it for its scenery, kingfishers, general interest and good waterside pubs. Its many locks, though single width, have the virtue of a stepping area just beyond the gate so that the boat can stop, the gate closes behind it and the crew member working the locks can step aboard without needing to moor up. Handy.

So at end of September 2016 here, in yellow, are the canals and rivers where we have taken Patience.

Where next?

From Oxford 4. Braunston to Welford

Thursday 22nd September
Off at 8.45 amid showers and through Braunston locks (double width, what a change!) alongside a group of Dutch people enjoying our canals.
Part way up we're interrupted by a cranky old boy with full grey beard and yellow oilskins who seems to be shouting at his boat as it careers across the pound ahead of us and turns to 90 degrees. I go up and try to help whereupon it seems he is shouting at his unfortunate, handicapped, wife who is within, while his boat is partly grounded in the low water of the pound and swinging around from the stern as he tries to gain control. Opening the lock for him eases his grounding and at last enables him to get in to the lock and away.
We too get in and away, charging on to Napton and to the bottom lock of the Watford Flight by lunchtime. As usual there is a queue, though not as long as last time (only 2 hours!), and we begin to think we could regain our home mooring at Welford before night fall.
We are out of the top lock (there are 7, gaining 60 metres) at 3pm and with the estimate from the lock keeper that it's just 4 hours to Welford we consider being home tonight instead of tomorrow as we'd believed.
It's a beautiful day now, bright low sun through trees highlighting furrows in freshly ploughed fields, and we are going at a good pace (John calculates just under 3mph and believes we are going a bit too fast) so at this rate we can make it in time - if we want to.

In my own mind I set a target of arriving at the Welford junction by 7pm. Any later I thought would be too dark and it would be preferable to moor up just before the junction and rest up with the food and drink we had on board. With the temperature gauge warm but not overheating, and with sunset at 7.01 pm, we arrive at 7.07 and I make the decision to go for our marina.

Down the dark Arm we went, surprised to be crossed by another boat heading back to the main canal, cautious but confident in gathering gloom, and then assisted by our trusty hand-held spotlight, we approached the pound. The spotlight illuminates the narrow entrance and we are through without a bump. John leaps off, dashes to the lock, opens it and I glide in effortlessly in near total darkness.  What little light remains in the sky helps make it lighter than down the tree-lined Arm.
In minutes we are through and at the marina, helped now by the electric lights from the Basin. We moor up at 7.45. It is late September. It is very dark. We are home.

I found it really quite exciting (narrow boating isn't usually exciting, is it?!) and certainly memorable, if not entirely sensible. Of course we had lights - spotlight, headlight and navigation lights -, plus experience and familiarity with this stretch, so it was less tricky than, say, a long tunnel. CRT don't recommend it (please don't try this at home, youngsters).
But what fun!

21 miles, 14 locks, 11 hours

From Oxford 3. Fenny Compton to Braunston

Wednesday 21st September
Passing the water buffalo again at Adkins Holt Farm ... noting long term moorings up The Engine Arm off the Napton Flight, we push on with the aim of arriving in good time at Braunston. Being a busy place we know moorings can be tricky to find.
We arrive at the Braunston Turn at 5pm ...

... and struggle to find anywhere not dedicated to long term moorings, near a water tap or a bend or otherwise inappropriate. Finally we are uncomfortably near a busy road bridge and a dog poo container overflowing with people's rubbish - but it'll have to do. We can't find anywhere nearby to deposit our own rubbish (come on, Braunston, it's not hard ...) so we hang on to it.
Evening meal at The Globe on Braunston High Street. Not as posh as The Admiral but perfectly adequate in the dining room.
17 miles, 9 locks

From Oxford 2. Banbury to Fenny Compton

Tuesday 20th September
Overcast  at first, dull but thankfully no rain, we set off from Banbury in good time and head north, reflecting on the very fine waterside, newly pedestrianised old centre - but the tortuous back street route from one to the other. Perhaps they ran out of money .... though that doesn't explain the lack of life in the evening in the centre. Has the huge shopping centre sucked the night life out of Banbury?
On and up, under drawbridges, past gardens that border the canal, and now with the sun on our backs, yesterday's dampness squeezed out of us.
We stop in at Cropredy marina for a pump-out which appears to confirm that we can go longer than a fortnight without needing to pump out, though without a gauge to measure accurately we are not much further forward. Cropredy is a huge posh marina, but we push on, up the old Oxford with its quaint lock-keepers' cottages ....

Bridge 152
And before we know it we are at Fenny Compton, at "the summit" so from tomorrow we start heading downhill.
Fenny Compton is packed with boats and we're lucky to find a place 1/4 mile from the Wharf Inn. There are more than  50 boats lined up here and the pub is very busy, but food is good and very well priced.
10.5 miles 12 locks

From Oxford 1. Heyford to Banbury

Up early knowing we have places to go and we are at the water point at 8.45 - to find a) someone already there b) there is only the one tap c) it is the slowest tap on the network d) if we do ever get to it and fill up we'll have to reverse through a bridge and do a 3-point reverse into the wharf to turn round and face in the right direction. Oh yes, and it's started to rain ....

So we don't actually set off until 10.30 and we make a note to tell CRT they've got a useless tap.
And it's raining .... so my memories of the rest of the day are just increasingly damp.

We arrive in Banbury at 6.15 and it hasn't stopped raining, so changing into dry gear and hanging up the damp is the first priority. Standing outside at the tiller for 8 hours of constant rain isn't best.
We are moored right next to Tooley's Historic Boatyard.
Look closely and you will see that they offer "The ISIS school of boat handling." Is that the terrorist's alternative to the SAS and Special Boat Service?

At last with umbrellas up we head for The Old Reindeer, Banbury's oldest pub and quite atmospheric. We are served by an enthusiastic young man and a charming ex-ballet dancer (see her pirouette as she changes direction with our meals!) and she also shows me around The Globe, the old panelled room where, it is said, Oliver Cromwell planned his campaigns.
Back at the boat, having negotiated the back streets of Banbury, we light the fire and try to dry our kit.
And still it rains ....

12.5 miles, 7 locks

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

To Oxford! The weekend

With John back in Cambridge I'm on my on my own for a short while until Jenny comes across for the weekend. I do some washing and run the engine for a while to test the battery charge. Jenny comes via dreadful traffic and local floods (Didcot station just the other side of Oxford is flooded and impassable though there's no problem here, just 15 miles north) armed with spare clothes and good food so after lunch we stroll around Lower Heyford (pleasant, though it doesn't take long), afternoon tea at Kizzie's café on the wharf and a supper on the boat followed by an evening drink at The Bell.
Next day, Saturday, we work out the train times and set off to walk past Lower Heyford station to the next one down, Tackley, which is 5 miles south on a pretty good towpath.
At Tackley we catch the train to Oxford and wander the streets of the dreaming spires with more than an hour at the Ashmolean which has been recently revamped and is very accessible. Some excellent pre-Raphaelite paintings high upstairs and all manner of ancient pieces and fine work.
The Radcliffe Camera

Back in Heyford Jenny remembers a local pub which she visited a while ago while on a cycling holiday and she drives us to The Red Lion at Steeple Aston for a very good evening of sea bream (Jenny) and an enormous pizza (me). The pub / restaurant also has a surprisingly good second-hand bookshop with profits going to local charities. Worth a look!

On Sunday we visited Rousham House and gardens, an easy stroll from the wharf and on a beautiful day it was a pleasure to browse the gardens. They are well kept but not pretentious and not manicured like some National Trust places. The house is open only to pre-booked parties, but the grounds are open for anyone except children and dogs. Also a pleasant change - there is no shop, no cafeteria, and they encourage you to bring your own picnic and stay as long as you like. We had a wonderful morning and would have stayed longer if we'd remembered a picnic ....
In the garden

Dovecote inside ...

... and out
Rousham Chapel

If you are in need of a meal you should visit The Red Lion, or for afternoon tea go to Kizzies (see above).
In the afternoon we collected the last of the blackberries (lots in number but small in size at this late stage in September).
Finally hello to John who has returned from the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire's Garden Party, goodbye to Jenny who is driving home, and I knock up a stir fry with ingredients bought in Oxford.
After a delightfully relaxed and leisurely weekend tomorrow we are back on the water and starting for home. All change!

To Oxford! 5. Aynho to Lower Heyford

Thursday 15th September
Leaving Aynho, the morning is misty. We make a precautionary removal of aerial and chimney as some of the bridges have been low and we fear they may become lower and narrower.
We negotiate Somerton Deep Lock - which, at 12 foot, it is)

then on past more very pleasant online- moorings-with-gardens and several sightings of kingfishers.
It is cooler than yesterday by far and I wear my jumper for the first time this week. It has been the hottest September day since 1911, affecting mainly the east side of the country (34 degrees in Gravesend) and today is predicted to be the last really warm day before a brief spell of heavy rain introduces cooler weather for the weekend.
We moor up at lunchtime, choosing a space a few minutes from the wharf as this takes us further from the railway line and the noise of passing trains. John catches the train home while I explore Lower Heyford, along the towpath ...

and up to Upper Heyford where there is an interesting church and a very fine old tithe barn.

In the evening, after many towpath conversations with walkers and passers-by, to The Bell for a reasonable, inexpensive meal. They are under-staffed and very busy with boaters and locals, working hard to offer a friendly atmosphere for an evening drink or a full scale meal.
6 miles, 3 locks