Sunday, 31 May 2015

Last Leg to Leicester

Our run up the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union continued on Wednesday with us getting to Crick for a water top up ……..

…… and to see the lovely old steam powered narrow boat “Adamant” pass by us at the water point.

Having spent a couple of hours at Crick taking on water, chatting to boaters and getting some supplies from the Coop in the village we were hard pressed to get to Foxton Locks before they shut. But get there we did, by the skin of our teeth.

We were the last boat to go down with the gates being padlocked behind us. It’s always a treat being high up at the top of the Foxton Flight to spy the countryside stretched out before us. Once down the flight, with the lock keepers ready to go home, we soon moored up for the night ourselves before the rain set in.
On Thursday, after negotiating Saddington tunnel, we caught up with friends Chris and Les on nb “Eleventh Heaven” who’d been moored up and waiting a couple of day for us to turn up. The rest of the day was spent with the four of us sitting, chatting and refreshing ourselves aboard “Eleventh Heaven” when we were surprised (and delighted) by more friends John and Jan on nb “Jubilee” who were moored up just around the corner. They joined us for a quick bit of refreshment before they had to leave. Chris, Doug, John, Les and Jan.

Friday was wet, but with the crew suitably attired,  …..

……. “Eleventh Heaven” and “Chance” made way towards …….

…….. Kilby Bridge by lunchtime and our moorings for the night. Jan and John on “Jubilee” were already moored up and, very kindly, offered us lunch. In the evening all six of us went to The Navigation for a meal together …….

…….. and afterwards, back to “Chance” for coffee (and chocolates supplied by P&O cruises!). We had a really lovely time together – James, Doug, Jan, Chris, Les and John.

The last leg of our journey on Saturday took us through Leicester. Twenty locks in total, made more efficient by Doug on his sturdy stead going ahead to set the next lock.

“Eleventh Heaven” following close behind down the mile straight through Leicester.

“Chance” approaching, without doubt, the most elegant bridge in Leicester.

And finally, the end of our two week cruise – our boat builders MGM on the River Soar in Thurmaston. “Chance” is scheduled for a blacking and safety inspection in the next few weeks. Our trip has been made specifically to get “Chance” from London to MGM for the work to be done while we return to Sussex for James to have a new hip fitted in Chichester on Tuesday this week.

It’s been a great couple of weeks. We thoroughly enjoyed the Thames and the Oxford canal rather than the slightly shorter Grand Union “slog”. It’s been wonderful meeting up with so many friends and travelling for a few days with Chris and Les. Now it’s six to eight weeks while James recovers after his own bit of ‘reconditioning’.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Bruised and Battered but still Breathing.

We left Napton this morning in bright sunshine – after that the weather went a bit downhill but stayed dry for us.

Leaving the bottom of the lock flight you get the best view of the famous Napton windmill.
Reaching Brauston we were hailed by no less than four blog readers! Thanks all of you for saying “hello” and happy cruising to you all. After a lightning dash to the chandlery at the bottom of the lock flight to get a spare Squirrel stove door glass we joined up with another boat (delightful father and daughter combination!) for the journey to the top of the locks.

With five locks under our belt and one to go we had a bit of “excitement”. A hire boat exiting the lock turned across our course and, in trying to avoid a collision with it, we picked up this go cart tyre on the prop! The hire boat then decided to reverse into us and, with no power available due to the tyre round the prop, we couldn’t avoid colliding with the second boat out of the lock. Having been knocked at the stern by the hire boat and giving the second boat a resounding clunk we felt a bit bruised! Thankfully no one was hurt and no one had any sense of humour failure. After getting “Chance” to the bank James had a bit of a job prising the tyre off the prop – but he did, and here it is! 

The Braunston tunnel brought the first opportunity for us to try out our new ‘micro’ LED headlights. Doug took instructions to adjust them so they don’t blind oncoming boaters. Tiny as they are they are quite remarkable and improve tunnel visibility no end. Being angled well to the right we hope we’re not going to blind anybody!
With the Braunston events behind us we turned left at Norton Junction and chanced the flight of locks at Watford Services. We were aware of the amount of traffic leaving the Crick Boat Show this weekend and weren’t too surprised to find we had to wait a bit for a passage up. 

As it turned out we had a two hour wait, as twelve boats came down through the staircase. We passed the time by helping the two,rather tired, lock keepers out (57 boats descended the flight today!) We did our bit, chatted to a lot of very tired boaters who’d been waiting to come down a lot longer than we had, had a few laughs with the lockies and various show boat crews and finally took our place for the 16 meter vertical rise to the top.

Doug’s at the back somewhere!

“Chance” buried deep in the flight.

Our resting place for tonight beyond bridge 8 on the Leicester Arm, enjoying the evening sunshine still intact and looking forward to another day tomorrow.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The “Oxford” continues to delight ……..


Stopping in Banbury (on Sunday) was essential before we went any further as the next two days of cruising offers no quick or easy way to get provisions.


With the shopping stop at Banbury under our belts we cruised on. The lovely lock keepers cottage at Bourton Lock is still in dire need of some TLC. The problem with so many of these lock cottages is that there’s no access so you need a boat or a stout pair of walking shoes!


The pretty village of Cropredy was our stopover for Sunday night. Particularly as the weather was starting to look very threatening. The village is famous for the Civil War battle there in 1644 and the folk festival in August each year. It was also important for us as we were scheduled to meet Dave Smith ……..


…….. in the Red Lion. He made the lovely wooden clock which James had for his birthday 2 years ago and Dave has given it an upgrade. So after a chat and a pint with Dave the clock is now back with us and we’re eager to see it working again at home.


Today our first delight was to see a clutch of 18 (!) ducklings. How on earth can a duck sit on eighteen eggs! (or does half belong to one duck and half to the other?)


Here we are starting the ‘Fenny Tunnel’ near the village of Fenny Compton. When the canal was first built this was a 1000 yard tunnel but the rock was so brittle the top was taken off and it’s now just a narrow section where you don’t want to meet a boat coming the other way.


The blossom this spring is sensational – this is a Dog Rose in the narrow section.


There’s a lovely cast iron ‘turn-over’ bridge (taking the tow path from one side to the other) half way along the narrows. It needs a coat of paint C&RT!


From the top of Claydon Locks we were on the summit stretch of the canal. At eleven miles long, with no population save a few solitary dwellings, it offers the opportunity to daydream if nothing else. The countryside around here is glorious at any time but in spring we’re treated to sights such as this field of Flax ……..


…… and these large clumps of Yellow Flag.


Just an aside – this was todays lunch!


With so much of ‘nothing’ around, there are a lot of these ‘bridges to nowhere’. They are just access bridges for the farmers to get from one side of the canal to the other.


What’s this! – Doug at the helm! Good grief.


Well, the canal world can throw up some strange sights but what’s this all about!? Someone’s dug out a trench, floated in a boat and sealed up the bank! Does he still need a licence?


With the eleven mile summit behind us the Napton flight of locks took us down 55 feet to the lower levels. Doug looked a bit ‘all-in’ so we moored up for the night just above the last lock. James scrubbed to rear deck (which was a disgrace!) and Doug cooked home made burgers with roasted sweet potato wedges. The stove has been lit and we’re hunkered down for the night. Yet another lovely day.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

River to Canal in one easy lock.

On Friday we completed our passage up the wonderful River Thames. From our mooring at Sandford Lock it wasn’t long before we reached the “dreaming spires” of the beautiful city of Oxford ……


…….. and it has to be Oxford when the surrounding architecture at Iffley Lock looks like this!


We briefly moored at Osney just above the lock before leaving the Thames via the “romantically” named Sheepwash Channel  …..


……. through the shallow (3’ 6”) Isis Lock and onto the Oxford Canal.


One of the weirdest experiences on the canal system is the lozenge shaped Shipton Weir lock, as the canal feeds onto the River Cherwell for a short while. It’s fun trying to keep the boat straight when the water starts flowing in.


On our charming mooring on Friday evening outside Enslow, and in the middle of nowhere, all we had for company was the wildlife.  The birdsong was sensational and watching a heron waiting for his supper to appear was a real pleasure.


Today, Saturday, we continued up the Oxford Canal – shallow and slow, as always, it wasn’t quite the same journey for us as last year ……..


……. as it’s now twice as wide!!!!!!  The amount of cutting back (and boy didn’t it need doing) has transformed the canal to the point where we didn’t recognise a lot of it.


Reaching “The Heyfords” the cutting back stopped and the old Oxford canal returned. Perhaps they’ll continue next winter hopefully. Spring has truly sprung with blossom everywhere. This is a red Horse Chestnut tree at Lower Heyford.


The canal banks are lined with hundreds of acres of buttercup meadows.


Our next treat, in more ways than one, was Somerton Deep Lock. Evidently, at 12 feet deep, it vies with Tardebigge for being the deepest narrowbeam chamber on the system.  While Doug went to release its huge volume of water James enjoyed the Hawthorne blossom, hanging off the hedgerows like grapes on a vine.

Another treat greets you when entering the lock chamber – a huge Clematis, in full bloom, covers the bridge and the owners of the pretty lock keepers cottage have planted all sorts of other wonderful things to please the eye.


Eventually you rise to the top of its twelve feet and you can breath again!


Our next treat was to bump into fellow bloggers Pip and Roger on nb “Windsong”. Due to our rather tight schedule on this trip we only had a ‘floating about chat’ with them (again!). One day we’re going to meet up and spend some quality time with these good people but for now it was short and sweet. Nice to catch up with you both.


Trying to stay out of hearing of the M40, which rather plagues this stretch of canal, we chose the splendid moorings at Twyford Wharf for tonight’s mooring. James had to effect a repair (small thankfully!) where he thwacked into an awkward lock entrance earlier in the day – and once he’d got up a head of steam, decide to rub down and varnish one pair of side hatch inner doors. It’s been a good day!!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Two more days on the Thames

Leaving our very quiet mooring at Wargrave on Wednesday morning …..


…. it wasn’t long before James’ interest in riverside properties got into full swing.  This old, thatched cottage built on stilts and out of reach of most major floods has survived the test of time and is in superb condition.


Further upstream and Sonning Court holds a prominent position on the river we cruise past the village. (all the spoons in this house are probably bent!)  


The narrowness of Sonning Bridge limits quite a few of the larger craft from going any further.


Black swans at Reading.


Approaching Caversham lock with part of the Reading skyline in view.


Leaving Caversham – they don’t build houses like this any more!


The sign at Mapledurham Lock reminds us how far we’ve travelled and how far we have to go on the Thames. (the half mile seems to be VERY important!)


Wednesday’s mooring at Goring-on-Thames, just below the weir.


A very pretty cottage on the backwater in Goring – very typical of this beautiful village.


We ate out on Wednesday evening – taking the advice of John and Louise on nb “Plodding Along”. we very much enjoyed the food and the atmosphere of this lovely old pub – The Catherine Wheel.


On our way today, Thursday, and the Middle Thames becomes much more rural and the bridges start to take on a different character. This one at Wallingford has seventeen arches (!) but the river flows through only four of them.


Just past the bridge the visitor moorings at Wallingford hold a special memory for us. Back in 2008, in our previous boat, we held on for dear life here for a fortnight after the river rose five and a half feet over night! Since then, we hold great respect for this river.


You have to keep your eyes peeled to spot the River Thame quietly entering the Thames. The River Thames above this point is often referred to as both the Thames and the Isis.


The distinctive spire of Culham village church.


Only three of the cooling towers of the disused Didcot Power Station remain after the recent demolition of the other three.


Approaching the ancient town of Abingdon where, below the low bridge to the left, the River Ock (again very quietly) enters the much larger Thames.


A closer look at the very attractive waterfront at St Helen’s Wharf, Abingdon.

Our mooring this Thursday evening is at Sandford Lock close to Oxford where, tomorrow, we’ll be leaving this lovely river.