Friday 30 September 2011

Autumn Cruise - Day 21

There was a fantastic sunset through the trees last night.

This morning it was misty again.  We didn't need to get going early, as the Claydon locks are opened only at 10am at the moment, because of water shortages.  Even so, while we got ready two boats went past.  When we got to the bottom of the flight, it appeared we were sixth in the queue.  It turned out that one of the boats wasn't going anywhere, so we were fifth.  In the event, the first boat was allowed to start up the locks at about 9.45, and we entered the bottom lock at 10.30.  By then boats were coming down, and we met southbound boats at every lock and got to the top in 45 minutes.

The summit pound was quite shallow, and going seemed very slow.  We went through the most northerly lift bridge, and then through the Fenny 'tunnel', which used to be a tunnel, but had the roof taken off.  There's a lovely little bridge which takes the towpath from one side to the other; it has a big road bridge towering over it.

We stopped for lunch at Fenny Compton, where there was plenty of room.  One of the boaters I'd taked to on the Claydon flight said the summit was a bit like a ghost town, and so it was: all the moorings you'd normally expect to be full were almost empty; we passed just a handful of boats going the other way, when normally you'd expect dozens.

Adrian went to the little shop at the Wharf Inn for eggs, then we set off again.  It was a beautiful day (if anything, too hot!) and the rolling Warwickshire countryside looked lovely.  At one point on this quiet, winding summit, there's a sign showing where the planned high speed rail line will cross the canal; as good a reason as any against it, I would have thought.

As we approached the end of today's journey, a hare ran alongside the canal.  I don't remember ever seeing one before, but they're easily identifiable as they're so much bigger than a rabbit.

We moored up at the top of the Napton Flight of locks, at Marson Doles.  There are restrictions with these locks too, and we're fourth in the queue for the morning.  Not long after we'd moored, a helicopter flew low along the canal and landed at the property on the offside.  It frightened another hare (or maybe the same one), giving me another opportunity to get a shot of it.

Once the temperature had dropped slightly, we washed the towpath side of the boat, which had got very dusty over the past three weeks.

12 miles, 5 locks.  (344 miles, 196 locks)

Thursday 29 September 2011

Autumn Cruise - Day 20

It was another autumnal morning followed by a day straight out of high summer.

As we were out on our own, we started a wash load while we had breakfast, as the Travel Power needs the engine revs to be fairly high while the washing machine heats the water.  It was misty and atmospheric when we set off.

We stopped shortly afterwards at Aynho Wharf for a pump out.  It's a friendly little boat yard, and they seemed to do a decent job.  The first lock of the day was another shallow diamond shaped one, Aynho Weir Lock.  The River Cherwell flows across the entrance.

Just above Nell Bridge Lock is a nice looking farm shop with moorings, where they produce their own bacon and pork.  They also sell gas and coal, and have overnight moorings with electricity.  A little further on, we went under one of the typical Oxford lift bridges that's right by the M40.  It's one of the bridges we always look out for when we're on the motorway.

At Grant's Lock, the bridge is having its parapet rebuilt.

At Banbury, we came up the lock with quite an audience, including a man with an owl.  A real one.  Then I went to raise the lift bridge, and we moored outside the Castle Quay shopping centre.

We topped up supplies and had lunch before setting off again.  The route out of Banbury to the north is very slow, because of visitor and permanent moorings.  Hardwick Lock, which is within spitting distance of the M40, has a new balance beam, but they haven't yet fitted the paddle mechanism.  We were glad the lock was in our favour; with only one paddle, it could have been very slow to empty.

Just north of the motorway there are enormous earthworks going on, for a flood alleviation scheme for Banbury.  At one point it's on both sides of the canal, and a little canal bridge (admittedly with some protection) is carrying huge vehicles.

Bourton Lock Cottage looks as sad as ever.  In fact, things may even be worse, as the flood barrier is just feet from the back door.

Adrian arrived at the next lock to find it almost full and with a boat approaching, so he topped it up and opened the gate.  They were very grateful, saying that sort of thing doesn't happen very often.  As we approached Cropredy, I got off to walk to the shops for ice creams, as it was so hot.  The village and the lock cottage were looking particularly pretty in the sunshine.

I was working the final locks of the day, and at one of them a robin landed on the raised paddle rack.  I took several photos, but of course the only one in focus is the one where the robin is looking the other way!

We moored for the night in a nice open spot just past Clattercote Wharf, less than a mile from the bottom of the Claydon flight.  We'll have an enforced relaxed start tomorrow, as the locks are open only between 10am and 2pm, as a water saving measure.

14 miles, 12 locks.  (332 miles, 191 locks)

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Autumn Cruise - Day 19

Last night's mooring was fantastic; you'd never have known that the A40 was just a couple of fields away, and we were only a few miles from Oxford.  We had a swan which lurked outside the side hatch until it was dark; birds flocked overhead; the river was alive with little fish; what looked suspiciously like bats swooped over the water; there was a great sunset.

This morning was misty as we set off at about 8.15, but the sun soon burned it off.

We soon reached the junction of Duke's Cut, which links the Thames with the Oxford Canal.  It was much longer than we remembered, but the end result was the same: Duke's Cut Lock, which is located underneath a railway bridge, and comes as a bit of a shock after the wide open spaces of the Thames.

Duke's Cut Lock takes you down a foot or two onto the Oxford Canal, and as we're going north we were immediately into Duke's Lock, which goes up.

We've thoroughly enjoyed our week on the Thames, more, I think, than we'd expected.  But it was nice to be back on the canals, even if the Oxford did feel narrow and shallow.  Briar Rose was certainly missing the depth of water under the base plate.

Thrupp looked as lovely as ever.  Adrian went ahead to open the lift bridge, which is powered these days, while I took the boat through and did a turn onto the service point, watch by a group of people who looked as though they were Jehovah's Witnesses.  Once moored, we filled with water and started a wash load.

Once the tank was full we set off again, passing Shipton on Cherwell Church and heading into Shipton Weir Lock, which is shallow but diamond shaped, to send more volume of water down the canal.  The section beyond the lock is actually the River Cherwell.

We stopped for lunch by the former quarry above Pigeon's Lock.  We'd felt that the morning's journey had been slow going; this afternoon was even slower: the pound above Northbrook Lock was at least a foot down, so when a boat came round the corner, we both ended up aground.  Lower Heyford was packed as usual; it would be nice if Oxfordshire Narrowboats could hire out some of their boats, to clear the way a little.

The weather was absolutely beautiful with not a cloud in the sky, the Oxfordshire countryside looked great, and bridges and locks came at regular intervals.

The final lock of the day was Somerton Deep Lock, at 12ft one of the deepest on the system.  It has a lovely cottage alongside, although the Alsation dog wasn't very friendly.  We moored up just along the canal; it was 5.30, making this one of the latest finishes of the trip.

18 miles, 12 locks.  (318 miles, 179 locks)

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Autumn Cruise - Day 18

Yesterday evening, Nick the editor of Canal Boat came to visit us at Lechlade as it's on his way home.  He had a look at Briar Rose, and then we went to the Riverside Inn for a drink.  Nick had to go home, but we stayed for dinner, and the food was excellent.  We had a look round Lechlade (in the dark); it's a very pretty village, although the busy road detracts from the appeal somewhat.

This morning we were retracing our steps of yesterday, so there was a real feeling of heading for home. There was a misty feel to the air as we left at just after 8am.

It was too early for a lock keeper to be on duty, so we worked through St John's Lock by ourselves.  At the next lock, Buscott, the lock keeper arrived as we were in the lock, and opened the bottom gates for us.  At the next few locks, they were either open waiting for us, or boats were just coming out.

It's difficult to explain just how bendy this part of the river is.  There are u-bends and s-bends, and in a narrowboat it's quite hard work.  I've struggled to capture the bends in a photo, but in this one we're at the apex of a bend: we've come from the left and will soon be facing the opposite direction to the right.

When we got to Grafton Lock, the self service sign was showing, but the lock keeper was there.  He worked us through, but said he was just about to set off for Rushey Lock, a couple of locks downstream.  At Radcot Lock, they're rebuilding the weir.

Just below the lock, and young man in a small boat was checking various nets; I'm not sure what he was catching.  Just around the corner was his four wheel drive and trailer, where he'd obviously launched his boat.  The cows in the field were taking a great interest - one had even got into the trailer!

The lock keeper we'd seen earlier was at Rushey Lock.  He was very chatty, which gave me a chance to get a decent photo of this lock's topiary.

We had lunch on the move, although we were making much better progress than yesterday.  While there are occasional wooded sections, this is an area which is quite flat with big skies.

At one point, I spotted a kingfisher sitting on a branch and he stayed there while I took his photo.

Along this whole section we could see planes on their way into RAF Brize Norton.  They included Tristars and Hercules.

We stopped for diesel at Oxford Cruisers (a little dearer than the last time we filled up, but they allow any declaration), and then filled the water tank above Eynsham Lock, where we also got rid of the rubbish.  Once down the lock, we carried on for a mile or so, looking for somewhere to moor.  We found a spot in a field of sheep, with a fantastic view of the Wytham Great Wood.  We're not sure exactly where we are, but we can see the spire of Cassington church behind us.

The clouds has vanished and the temperature has shot up - apparently the next couple of days will be very warm.  In another surprising success, we stuck the satellite dish on the roof, and got a great signal straight away; normally, we spend half an hour trying the find the satellite.

25 miles, 9 locks.  (300 miles, 167 locks)