Monday 14 May 2018


Today's Canals - Grand Union, Oxford

We awoke to a bright cloudless day with temperatures really soaring - or at least that is how it felt! What is more, it stayed that way all day.

Before continuing our journey we reversed about 100 m under Bascote Bridge to the water point just the other side. Having opted not to fill yesterday we were now down to half full (or, more to the point, half empty!)

We passed along several straight sections today, which (when they were not overcrowded by vegetation) gave an impression how this broad canal looked and felt when it was fully maintained for commercial traffic. Even these can sometimes be deceptive as we discovered several times when looking for a casual mooring and failed to get the stern within a metre of the bank.

Before .long we arrived at thee first of the two Itchington Locks. Whilst Mike worked the boat up, Christine walked to the nearby small village shop (she has been there several times but Mike has never seen it) As the boat reached the top she returned with a newspaper and some milk - only to remember that we also needed some eggs. Fortunately it is only a short walk!

Although these first two locks are named separately from the main flight of eight Stockton Locks, in reality the gap is no more than between the first two locks.

About half way up we met the first of 5 or 6 CaRT staff,. some of whom at least were bringing a workbook down to one of the middle locks for a short stoppage on Wednesday.

They plan on seeing if they can fix some bad leaks as well as also examining the cill. No doubt any significant repairs will have to wait until the autumn or winter. Only a half day slippage but they still need the stop planks to drain off the water from the work site. These planks are the new light weight aluminium ones that were introduced experimentally 2 or 3 years ago. The other staff did not really know what was happening but luckily the chap steering the boat did and under intense cross interrogation from Christine he revealed all!

After leaving the top lock we completed the level pound before the final three Calcutt Locks - with the aim of lunch before we tackled them.

As we passed Nelson Wharf ( the place where Willow Wren Training are providing certified training for helmsmen) we spotted nb Adamant which we saw last October when we arrived at Ellesmere Port. It seems that here is its home base from where (occasional) day trips on the steam powered boat are on offer at £320 per person - but only four 'delegates' can be carried at any one time, along with at least two crew. They day begins with a ceremonial lighting of the boiler which then takes some while to produce enough pressure to power the motor. The hull and engine date back to the end of the 19C but the cabin was added in the late 1980's.

A little later we passed the home of a number of historic boats, including nb Aquila and its present butty. This boat was built in 1935 by Harland and Wolff for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company,. perhaps at the height of its success.

At the end of another, longer straight, just before the first entrance to the Ventnor Farm Martina we pulled in for lunch.

After a pleasant break we stated up the final three Calcutt Locks.

However, below the top lock we reversed onto the wharf so that we could fill up with diesel. We have always found the people here to be very friendly and chatty and today was no exception.

As we left the top lock we reminded ourselves that this was the last of the 'candlestick' locks and that once we reach Braunston, we will have to take much greater care when ascending. From the top of Hatton down to here, the locks are some of the last to be built and benefited from generations of experience. Although the paddle mechanisms can sometimes be a but still and take around 23 turns up and down, overall the operation is a lot smoother than the rest of the Grand Union.

Before long we arrived at Wigrams Turn, or Napton Junction where we turned left. It is about and hour and three quarters from here to Braunston. As we want to visit the shops in the village tomorrow, we will now have to moor somewhere before then.

This somewhat unplanned photo caught our eye with its interesting patterns of branches and leaves. It looks, by comparison with its neighbour, that it must have almost died but is now quite happily sprouting back into life.

Finding a mooring required a combination of a good bank, no trees to obstruct the tv signal and preferable piling where we can used our chains. This took us a while but eventually we stopped just after Bridge 103.

After we had moored and a cool drink, Mike walked back to the bridge - his library photo of this bridge was taken on a cloudy day so hopefully he can improve on that today.

Interestingly, when he climbed over a stile onto the footpath over the top of the bridge he spotted this early warning notice about weight limits. It is interesting to be reminded that between Napton and Braunston, although we are on the through route for the Grand Union, it was originally built as part of the narrow Oxford Canal - hence the company name on the sign. The GU came later and for a while there was quite a bit of rivalry between the companies.

8.3 Miles - 13 Locks

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