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Monday, 29 September 2008

Along the Oxford and west to Birmingham

Before we left Oxford Carol had great pleasure in changing her flower troughs to give colour on the roof through the winter and into spring

Sept 19th was another lovely warm day and we cruised gently north. Diesel prices are falling, we filled at Kingsground at 80p which was a useful amount less than College Cruisers in Oxford wanting £1, let alone one place on the K&A wanting £1.09. We tied up for the night just below Allens Lock, having managed 8 miles and 5 locks.........we work really hard at this boating! Boaters who may have used the floating farm shop just above Pigeons lock is no more, merely a sunday tea shop. We did the same on Sat 20th managing another 8 miles and 6 locks mooring above Kings Sutton lock. We picked a good load of blackberries, the hedgerows are laden with delicious fruit.

On Sunday 21st we cruised the 3 miles and 1 lock to moor in Banbury. It was another lovely day but I was not best pleased when I went to raise the lift bridge just south of Banbury. It is normally left raised but because the farmer was combining it was down and I had to lift it but try as I might it would not budge. In the end I saw a chap walking his dog and he gave me a hand. The surprising thing was I also had to work hard to close it...........I banged an email off to BW!

Anyway, we went shopping in the town and stayed put on Monday too when I painted the galley, before going off by train on Tuesday to see my mother and shift the car back to Debdale for our return in October. Such an exciting life, but at least the galley looks better.

On Wednesday we spent an age at the Banbury filling with water. It must be about the slowest water point on the system, but eventually we were off and cruised to Cropredy in reasonable weather, picking more blackberries! Our friend Mike & Gerry on Tubbs rang, they are close behind and will join us in the morning. We moor next to them in our marina saw them at the Foxton Festival and crossed them at Crofton on a bad weather day last month.

Thurs 25th M&G arrived for coffee at 9.30, we had to get up early for them! We then worked our way north with them to Fenny Compton, picking blackberries ( did I tell you there are loads?) on the way and in good time for a couple of pints of Hooky before dinner. It was a lovely day and I was amazed that we both managed to moor close by the pub. 6 1/2 miles and 9 locks.

Friday dawned misty but was sunny by 10, did some picking, then we were off on the very bendy bit of the canal as we cruised with M&G to Napton. It took some time to negotiate because of traffic, and we filled & emptied at the bottom of the flight and then said farewell to our friends as they were stopping at Napton over the weekend.

On the Napton flight, you might just make out the windmill on the horizon. It is a feature of the cruise along this part of the Oxford canal as it weaves it way following contours. The sails can appear in almost any direction in relation to the direction of travel.

We cruised on turning up the Grand Union canal to Calcut and did the 3 locks. I bought oil and filters from friend Brian Carter at Calcut Boats, it was great to see him again and it was a lovely day in all.12 miles & 12 locks.

If Friday started misty, it was foggy on Saturday to start, but by 10.30 was clear and warm. We wanted to be tied up by 2 to watch GP qualifying, so we set off early (for us) and met up with Sandy & John on So Wey Knot at the top of the Stockton flight. It was lovely to work through the locks with them, and they were very quick to work. We arrived at the bottom and were about to pass The Two Boats when we did a rapid stop & tied up outside. We enjoyed a few beers with S&J before watching qualifying, visiting Long Itchington and picking the most enormous load of those 'b' things. We then dined with Sandy & John at the pub & had a very good meal and a really good evening. 3 miles & 10 locks.

Sunday 28th started foggy again. I did my oil change and walked into the village to get my paper and then settled down to watch the GP from Singapore. It was a quite interesting race. Once over we set off, and as we set off the lovely sunny day became cloudy & the wind cool. We cruised 4 miles & 7 locks stopping just above lock 22, filling & emptying on the way and picking .... It was a lovely mooring, only disturbed in the early hours by a boat going past. The forecasts are getting worse.

Mon 29th was cool but bright and we set off before 10 to make our way into Leamington, tying up above lock 40. The weather was annoying, the sun was warm but the wind cold, so we set off walking into the town wearing jackets, only to have to strip off a layer soon afterwards. Leamington is a quite good looking town and there is a lovely park with a modern conservatory.

Carol happy amongst the plants in the very modern conservatory and a pretty flower.

We went to look at the church which Nicholson says is worth a look, sadly it was locked, despite having a very splendid series of ramps to facilitate disabbled access. So we went to look at the Museum......but it was Monday & it was closed too!! Our wander around the town was brought to a close and we returned to Lily for a sandwich, near the boat we found this very colourful hairy caterpillar which was about 2 inches long.

We then set off for about a mile before tying up at bridge 43 to visit Sainsburys. We bought quite a lot and asked if we could borrow a trolley to cart the stuff back to the boat, undertaking to return it forthwith. We were told to get one of the trolley 'lads' to come along to bring it back. (Bill was probably older than me!) Of course as we cruised on about a mile we came across a large Tesco right alongside bridge 46! Still we got our Nectar points. We then cruised on through the two Cape locks and tied up just above Budbrooke Junction. No rain, but the forecast for tomoorow is wet, and we have the 21 locks of the Hatton Flight ahead! 6miles & 5 locks.

Tuesday 30th dawned wet, but drying, and we were not up and ready in time to move with sme very keen boaters from Sweden who passed us at about 8.15 so we started into the first lock at 9.10. The Hatton Flight is 21 wide locks over just under 2 miles that were much improved in the 1930's and are well maintained and as such the lock walls do not leak and the paddles that allow water to fill and empty the locks are large making for quick operation, though it is much easier to share with another boat! The paddle gear is very different from that seen on much of the rest of the system and the tall angled posts in the photo hold the mechanism. I believe they use a crown wheel and pinion system to raise the paddles which are quite easy to operate, requiring about 22 turns to fully raise them.

We made good progess with only light rain occasionally and clearing through the morning, and by 1pm we were alongside the cafe just before the top lock. The smell of warm food was enticing so we tied up & had very tasty toasted sandwiches and coffee, followed by a cone of the same delicious Bennetts ice cream as is sold at Foxton top lock. We then moved on, filling & emptying and cruised on to tie up between locks 61 and 62 in a lovely mooring, a reasonable distance from the railway I had used to get to see my mother a week earlier, and also away from the M40. The evening was lovely and bright but it was cold and we put the heating on.

Wednesday 1st October and after a blustery rainy night it dawned bright but with a poor forecast. We set off to Kingswood junction and just before reaching it we were horrified to see several clumps of Floating ennywort. This invasive weed has been introduced to our inland waterways from garden ponds where the plant has been misguidedly used. In its native North American lakes the severe winters cause drastic die-back each year. Our winters do not do this and it grows at a prodigious rate.

In Leicestershire the IWA has battled with BW to get drastic action taken since one of our members was brought to a dead stop under West Bridge in the city some years ago. Leicester City Council have worked hard removing it in their patch, but it took several years before BW woke up to the risk. Sadly the weed had by that time sprad drastically and has made the task harder to do, though their task was made harder by the Environment Agency being reluctant to permit the use of weedkillers to assist in the task. I understand that there has been a marked improvement this year, but at a cost that would not ave been required had people not introduced the weed in the first place.

So we passed at Kingswood junction from the wide Grand Union canal into the narrow North Stratford canal, and into the Lapworth locks. Over the next mile we worked through 19 locks raising us to the level of the Birmingham canals. The weather remained dry and at lunchtime we stopped before the last 4 locks at bridge 31 and ambled to see Packwood House some 3/4 mile from the canal. It was a lovely National Trust house and or visit was made the more enjoyable by the guides in the rooms describing how the place developed.

We then returned, completed the last 4 locks and the first lift brdge until mooring just before bridge 26. Just as we had completed tieing up, it rained hard...perfect timing! To Birmingham tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Away from Oxford

Thursday, 18th September.

Two weeks after we tied up in Oxford we decided to give it best and turn up the Oxford, leaving cruising down the Thames & doing London another time.

The Thames went onto red boards the day after we tied up and with these showing the lock keepers can't stop you cruising but insurance is invalid, needless to say we don't do this. We used the time to visit our daughter's family and to spend a day in Butlins, using a prize we had won at Emily's school fete last Xmas. It was surprisingly good.

When we returned, having travelled by train, I walked down to Osney lock to see what was going on. I spoke to a chap with a hotel boat who was shipping his guests off to another boat on the Midlands canals. He was moored in the cut leading to the lock and the flow was rushing past at around 5 mph. This was on Monday 8th & he had been told it was possible that there would be a window for them to pass through the lock, wind & return and get into the Oxford canal. Unfortunately for him it was only on the 18th that he managed to get of the river, he had spent nearly two weeks tied up, collecting water in a 10 gallon drum, and with a full toilet waste tank too! At least we were able to reverse back along the canal to a sanitary station.

So we were stuck so it was time for work. We had been concerned about some of our internal decorations. Lily has a fully painted interior, not a varnish finish, and has white framing around magnolia panels, all painted in an oil based eggshell paint. I set to cleaning hard and then did some touching up of the paint, and was horrified to see how un-white the white was, the magnola still being OK. So I had to set off and repaint. It was easy when we decorated at first, there was no finished floor, no furniture or soft furnishings, and we weren't living aboard! Anyhow I got on with shuffling things from A to B and so on and got the Lounge/dinette area finished. Carol stayed out of the way. Unfortunately her back was crying hell so she spent 2 or 3 days in bed. I intend to take this colour change up with Dulux as the white paint was nearly the same colour as the magnolia, and it is only about 5 years since we painted her, and we keep things clean. I still have the galley, bedroom, loo & rear cabin to finish. It will keep me quiet. Also we needed to do a few repairs to the curtains, but all s fine there now.

If you go to Oxford by boat, just behind College Cruiser's there is a Raymond Blanc Bistro. They offer an early dinner menue that gives you a chance to sample food designed and presented by a top chef, and at £17 for three courses including a glass of wine, a delicious meal. Opposite to it was a very good Greek place too where they offered a main course and a dessert plus a glass of wine for £10.50, very tasty. These places are close to St Baranabas Church ( which is an incredible place, incredible decoration inside. The guide above shows you something of it, but try to view it personally.

Just in front of us was a couple who were stuck, anxious to get up the Wey, him suffering from severe health problems. They had a couple of dogs, one had a great outlook on life.

We set off and passed through Isis Lock, winded, and returned whence we had come, though earlier in the week the flow past the tail of this lock had been very fast, had it stayed that way we might have tried reversing the mile and a half to Dukes Cut, bow thrusters are great for this!

So our first day cruising saw us travel from Oxford throgh to Shipton on Cherwell. It was a pleasant day, with some sun, no wind and a reasonably warm day, we had our shorts on again! We collected some blackberries, plus the attendant scratches and stings from the nettles, but the fruit was all fairly small, still it will taste great.

We passed this enormous boat on our way, I hope they don't try to carry as much clutter as we do!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Reading to Lechlade........nearly

Thought you might like a pic of the crowds moving up the towpath to get to the Reading Festival. The Salter Steamers were running ferry services from alongside Reading Bridge to Caversham Bridge until the early hours of the morning, shifting tons of beer and other essential festival stuff.

Tuesday 26th August and we return from our trip to Leicester and the National at Autherley. We went on Monday, a good choice as the site was crusting over and there was little mud to be seen and it was a bright day. We went with our eldest daughter and family and the journey from Leicester took under an hour by road, and we were thirsty as we arrived and popped into the IWA lounge, immediately bumping into David & Wadly with Pat & Terry with whom we should have been moored up if we had got our timetable in order. We had a good chat, getting up to speed with latest info before ambling off and meeting John, Wendy and Beryl from our group during the afternoon. With other chats to friends from our Region and others from earlier Festivals it made a pleasant afternoon to add to viewing the displays. We think, however, we will give them a miss for a few years now.

We set to cleaning Lily from top to bottom, plus giving her a polish and doing the washing whilst still tied up at Cavenham Boat Services who made us very welcome. Before we left on Thursday afternoon we had a fender eye re-welded on after it came detatched somewhere on the K&A, plus filling up with diesel at 85p ( remember we saw diesel at £1.09 along the K&A ). The mooring was very reasonable at £7 per night, including electricity and totally secure tied up in the middle of the river. When we cast off we reversed downstream a few yards and tied up alongside Cavershan Park, I polished the other side of the boat and we walked into Caversham and got our Thursday curry fix at Wetherspoons before re-provisioning at Waitrose.

Friday 29th and set off at 2 and bought a 15 day licence, and found that if we want to extend it to 30 days, we only will have to pay the extra £30 or so. Its expensive though at £131. We did this at Mapledurham Lock, where we also bought delicious ice creams, and we then cruised on to moor for the night at Beale Park.

On the way there we came across a load of very inexperienced skullers!
The day showed signs of promise with occasional glimpses of the sun after several days of grey overcast. It was a pleasant mooring.

Saturday 30th. I woke early and it looked as if the sky was clear, but after I'd woken up properly the clouds had rolled back only to disappear and give us a glorious day. We really stretched ourselves and cruised all the way to Goring Lock, all of 2 1/2 miles. We tied up, wandered around, did a bit of shopping, bought the papers, chatted...........lovely! I wandered further than Carol into Streatly

and as I ambled towards the church I saw a box of Bramley apples with a "Help yoursef" sign. I took a few and made a small donation. We had seen a lovely lot of blackberries near the lock...lovely again!
Goring lock with lovely flowers from hanging baskets on the bridge.

Sunday 31st. Bye sun! Cloudy, heavy mist and as we passed through Goring Lock & looked back at the valley we could hardle see the hills that constrain the river. It rained in heavy showers at times and after 5 miles and 2 locks we tied up at Wallingford to have a look at the place, and we were glad we did. As we walked around we could hear loads of bells jingling and then saw loads of Morris people. It was the Wallingford Bungfest when loads of teams assemble to have a rattling (jingling) good time. I enjoy Morris dancing, Carol hates it, but she puts up with me.

We walked to the park where we found a full festival site wth a great beer tent and loads of stalls, including some selling interesting foods. Many of the salls seemed to be selling hippyish things, but despite the weather everyone seemed happy. If you like this sort of thing they seem to put it on the weekend after the August Bank Holiday weekend. There was a lovely assembly of minature traction engines too and I do love steam power.

Apart from this it was a lovely town with an interesting set of castle remains as bashed about by Cromwell. There is a good sized Waitrose too, and as we returned to the boat we came across a wedding party doing photos on three cuisers before the bridal party proceeded downstream to a reception at Moulsford, though they didn't invite us to join in despite Carol being perfectly dressed for the bash.

Monday Sept 1st dawned bright and nearly warm but t clouded over by mid dasy and the wind got up and it rained by 5. We cruised to Dorchester, mooring at the mouth of the river Thame. It is a lovely town with a fabulous Abbey. A very old Roman town 2 hotels and a pub plus antique shops a shop and a Post Office.

This lovely & very different window with the stone cut into the shapes of branches and leaves.

The museum doesn't open till 2 and we wanted to be away, bt there is a big Iron Age history as well as Roman history there. We picked some lovely eating apples off a tree growing on a green before setting off again, ending up at Abingdon that afternoon with the wind strengthening all day. We moored alongside the wall by the Anchor.

Tuesday 2nd was to be time for exploring Abingdon. It had rained and blown hard through the night, but was calmer and drier as we set off on foot. I have to say we were very disappointed by Abingdon, we have seen many more interesting places on this trip. We would have gone into the old town hall to look over the museum, except this week it was closed as they changed their displays.

Abingdon old town hall and museum.

At 1.30 we set off and moored in Oxford opposite Christ Church Meadow. We had heavy rain and thunder in the evening and over night.

Wednesday 3rd, bright at start but wind getting up and we experienced strong flows around Osney lock and other places. Wind got very strong at times and we had one very heavy squall. Locks above Osney are not power operated but are very well maintained. We had some lovely sunshine at times but the wind made it cool, and we tied up at Newbridge, with a strong flow forcing us onto the side. 14 miles and 6 locks (2 worked ourselves) made this a big cruising day . Worrying forecasts for weather due, especially on Friday where there were early warnings of severe weather. We decided to look at the latest forecasts, and they showed the same, so we decided to run back to the Dukes Cut & the Oxford Canal the next day.

Thursday 4th and we had experienced more rain overnight, more forecast and very dark overhead. We set off at 9, passed through the bridge & tried to turn, failing at the first location but just managing it at the next, if we hadn't we would have cruised up to the next lock to manage it. By the time we reached the second lock,Pinkhill, yellow boards were out and the narrow boat owning lock keeper said he recommended the running for shelter we were doing, and by 12 after just 3 hours we were on the cut, covering a distance that had taken us over 5 hours the day before. I then had a whoopsy. about half a mile from the river I saw the line extending straight ahead, but as Lily's bows were alongside, I saw a left turn, and a signpost telling me to turn left, the sign being hidden by trees. Full reverse, but I couldn't stop the bows from overshooting the turn, worse still they swung over an into a banch overhanging the turn. Inspection by Carol revealed the headlight broken off its mounting, and the pole it is mounted on bent a bit, a job for later.

Anyway by 2pm we were tied up below br 240, just where we moored when we were in Oxford in June. There was a new addition to the run into Oxford in the form of a lifting bridge to allow contractors working on the A34 overbridge reconstruction to cross the canal. The bridge was raised by 4 hydraulic posts, one at each corner, controlled by radio from cntral controller, and took at least 5 minutes to rise to navigable height. We only had about a 10 minute wait, but a boat that followed us dow had waited for over 45 minutes on their way up the canal.

The weather had been reasonably good, and we were fortunate in missing one deluge where the lock keeper reported that the stair rods were bouncing up about 6 inches! Less wind than Wednesday, but rain after we tied up. We have decided to stay here and go by train to see our youngest grandchildren over the weekend.

Interesting observation, on Thursday night it rained a bit, and on Friday we have had showers, a few have been heavyish, but far from what the forecasts we had been given, have we been over cautious?