Monday 31 August 2020

Heyford Common Lock

 Today's Canal - Oxford

There is still some uncertainty about how much of the return trip we will be able to do before we are needed to be back home. How long will it take? Perhaps 10 days. When do we have to return? We had planned returning home a week today in which case we will have to find somewhere safe to leave the boat but as it stands Sunday will see us in a bit of a blank spot regarding marinas. Should we cancel some dates, if ;possible, and press on? Still time to decide but in order to give us some more options we opted to move our car back from Lower Heyford where it has been since the start of this trip to Droitwich, our home base.

This was our overnight mooring at Washford Stone Quarries.

As a result we started promptly for the hour and a bit section with a couple of locks. The pandemic lockdown has meant that a large part of the on-going maintenance of the canals this year has, unsurprisingly, not happened. In particular, vegetation management in some regions has been given a low profile and some sections on the Oxford reduce to little more than the width of a single boat.

Today's large dollop of good fortune started when we found that only two of the four visitor mooring spaces just before Lower Heyford Wharf, almost the shortest walk to the car!

No time for photos - Mike quickly changed into less unsmart clothes (from his usual disreputable boating gear!) and set off in the car, mostly by the M40/M42/M5. He called briefly at Warwick services, mainly to book a taxi from the marina to the railway sgtation but also to pick up today's newspaper. Based on the satnav prediction he booked for 12 o'clock, arriving with four minutes to spare and the taxi just arriving.

Last night we had been a bit uncertain about whether it was better to return via Banbury or Oxford - the bus route that calls at Heyford Bridge runs between the two. After consulting the Booking Office, he opted for the route used a couple of weeks ago, ie Banbury. The train to Birmingham was in 20 minutes.

There was just enough time at New Street to pick up some lunch before the second train was due to leave - which id did on time. It also arrived at Banbury as scheduled which gave Mike 11 minutes to get to the bus station! Late anbd he would have a 90 minute wait for the next in the Bank Holiday schedule.

At Stand 6 the S4 to Oxford was waiting and almost ready to leave - Mike was the only passenger at this point.(One other was picked up in the first village) The bus dropped Mike off at Heyford Bridge which left him with about 12 minutes walk back to the boat where a mug of tea was ready! Five hours for the round trip.

After a quick recovery and a change back to boat gear, we were off once more, aiming to make a useful start on the run to Banbury by canal. We will need to take a little time out there to visit the supermarket for a food top up.

Although there had been a boat following us as we set off, we had to close Mill Lift Bridge after us as there was no sign of them and several people were waiting to cross the bridge. Of course, as soon as we had set off again, they appeared, eventually, around the bend!

These old buildings at Upper Heyford are both attractive and intriguing. We have long assumed that the long structure was a tithe barn, the church can be seen just between the other buildings. However, the early OS maps describe the collection of buildings as Manor Farm. Wikipedia has the following to say: 

The Domesday Book records that there was a manor here at least as far back as 1086. For some time the manor contributed substantially to the coffers of successive Earls of Devon. In 1380 it was sold to the then Bishop of Winchester who included it in his endowment for the foundation of New College, Oxford. Twenty years later, the college constructed a tithe barn, similar to ones at two other farms that they owned.

There were short queues at both the next locks - partly as we were already behind the early starters from Oxfordshire Narrowboats, but also because there are maintenance issues that slow down the lock operation. 

See how different that bridge looks from the other side.

As Mike waited for a lock to empty he spotted this strange creature on the left which appears to have six legs.

As we left the lock, Christine discovered that she could get a mobile signal - almost the first time today so we quickly pulled onto a mooring. Not ideal as it is a bit of a bend and most of the boats coming past have just set off bend. However, a nasty piece of bent armco restricted our exact mooring position which left a space before the next boat, a space that tempted at least two boats to squeeze in only to find they were too long (or, as they would probably have seen it, the space was too short) Still, Christine was able to order the boots that she wanted to buy for Mike (his current favourite pair are coming to the end of their life and the same ones were on special offer) and Mike could upload this blog.

Miles - 4 Locks

Sunday 30 August 2020

Washford Quarries

 Today's Navigations - River Thames, Duke's Cut, Oxford Canal

A day of two halves: in the morning we completed our return down the Thames and in the afternoon started back up the Oxford Canal. After a discussion yesterday we have decided to abort all of our plans for this year (main objective was the Basingstoke along with the Wey Navigation and the Kennet and Avon) We thought about doing some of this, making the rest of this trip down to Reading or the start of the Wey, before finding a place to leave the boat and come back in September and October for further exploration. However, life back in Cornwall has become a whole lot more complicated than we could have imagined back in the winter when we started to plan the year. As a result the 'sensible' thing to do is to head back to Droitwich as soon as we can (too far for this trip but we should do quite a bit of it)

Today's forecast promised a much better day and indeed with just a few cloudy spells it was bright sunshine and much warmer. The above was the view out of our back door as we prepared to leave. As luck would have it, no-one came to collect the mooring fee - there were only three or four boats overnight and spread over some distance from the bridge, perhaps not worth the effort!

And here, looking back at our mooring location as we made a start.

Very shortly afterwards we passed under Newbridge with its narrow arches. Surprisingly, the Thames does not mark which arch to use when their is a choice to be made. At a guess we would not have made it through either outer arch!

Northmoor Lock came and went - all of the locks today had a keeper on duty. Must be that someone expected large numbers of boats out on Bank Holiday weekend. Although there were many more than on the way up, it was far from busy. None of the keepers had to cram boats is as can sometimes happen to avoid long queues.

Several of the locks normally have campsites attached to them but there are generally signs that they are closed because of the pandemic. However, there was a good gathering below Northmoor and we could sense the preparation of outdoor cooked breakfasts.

On the way up we commented on the substantial size of the mobile home holiday park at Bablock Hythe. The Ferry looks quite substantial - most of its trade must come from people staying in their holiday homes.

There were many more canoeists out on the river today - in places we had to keep a good eye on what they were doing. At least on the river they generally seemed to know how to do things, in contrast with later on the canal where there were large numbers of people who were evidently novices, perhaps just out for an hour or so. This group pf three (one had already ported around the lock) were on a trip from Lechlade to London.

At Eynsham Lock we filled with water on the approach landing - this did not delay us as we had to wait for three boats to be locked up and by the time they were ready to leave we were full. The other services has to be accessed from the lower lock landing. As we slowly came out of the lock, having to negotiate around a couple o boats already waiting to go up, we had a short amusing wait whilst the lock keeper spoke to a couple of 'older' men who were about to go for a swim. Despite their protestations that they have been doing so regularly he insisted that it was against the rules. Later we spotted them on the opposite back, having walked across the weir bridge happily skinny dipping! (no, you cannot see them in this photo so stop looking!)

The rest of our Thames trip was very pleasant and warm - here just coming around Hagley Pool, a wide bend in the river.

We turned off the main line of the Thames and onto the bywater that leads to the Duke's Cut. At the far end, just before the junction with the Oxford Canal is  a stop lock, originally to control the flow of water between the two canals. It does appear as it the lock has been extended at some time but one Google search suggests that it was first built so that the gates could work either way (not sure how that was engineered). In any event, it explains the somewhat odd positioning of the top ground paddle.

We found a good armco mooring just above Kidlington Green Lock and so were able to enjoy a   break. Setting off once more, the next stretch through Thrupp and up to Shipton Wier Lock was a but fraught with a lot of canoes all over the place and hire boats out of Oxford trying to push their way through places already narrowed by extensive inline mooring. At one bridge, Christine tried to warn an oncoming boat that he (sic) needed to wait as she was avoiding a rather frightened looking group clinging to the bank in their canoe! His comeuppance was grounding, for which he was not duly grateful . . .

On the other hand, at most of the locks there were pleasant and interesting people to chat with - socially distanced (as if) - and usually very willing to help. This couple we interested in why this lock looked so in need of a repair!

Shipton Weir Lock is always slow even if there s only a slight rise. Alongside the lock a group of around eight or so people were well into their bottles of wine as the barbecue was cooking well.

At Enstone we saw this boat moored, bearing the name Rev John Manton. We have not yet found an explanation although a couple of people with this name had interesting histories but none specifically related to canals. Anyone know more?

We carried on to Washford Stone Quarries where the space for mooring was entirely empty. Whilst Mike continued preparing the roast meal and writing this blog, Christine went in search of some blackberries that could be made into a sauce for the turkey

20.1 Miles - 10 Locks

Saturday 29 August 2020


 Today's Navigation - River Thames

As forecast, today was a much brighter and dry day.

Before leaving our overnight mooring, Mike walked across the bridge into town for a newspaper, together with Andrew who returned his overnight bag to his car and wanted to sample the bread from one of the posh looking bakeries. (His plan has been to cruise with us down to Rushey Lock and then walk back to Lechlade along the Thames Path)

As we returned to the boat we could see the landowner collecting his mooring fees from the boats. It was £5 for the night.

Shortly before 9 we were ready to leave and set off upstream the short distance to Inglesham where, just after a modern footbridge, the  former Thames and Severn Canal joins the river. The Cotswold Canals Trust and the IWA are gradually restoring this lock as an important marker towards a much fuller opening up of the canal. The other end is the Stroudwater Canal which links to the Severn.

We were able to wind in the mouth of the River Coln which joins the Thames just below Inglesham.

As we returned back down the way we had just come, the day was now really bright and pleasantly warm.

St John's Lock was on self service (perhaps someone will be here later!) The statue is of Father Thames and the inscription reads, "Presented in 1958 by H Scot Freeman Esq, a Conservator of the River Thames. The statue was commissioned in 1854 for the Crystal Palace and marked the Head of the Thames at Trewsbury Mead from 1958 to 1974. It was moved to St John's Lock in 1974"

Kelmscott Manor is close to the river but shielded from it by a row of trees so that little can be seen. We had a glimpse and could see that it is shrouded in scaffolding at present. It is undergoing and extensive refurbishment this year and next. The manor dates back to 1570 but was bought by William Morris in 1870 and it is in his memory that the property is now maintained by the Society of Antiquaries of London. The name was a favourite of Morris  and he used it for the Kelmscott Press which he founded.

The locks looked almost postcard-perfect today - this one is Grafton.

At Rushey Lock, where Andrew was due to leave us, we shared with a couple of cruisers. The lock keeper we had met on the way up at Eynsham Lock. Alas there was nowhere to moor anywhere near the lock so we continued to Tadpole Bridge where we hoped to find space alongside the pub.

As we approached the bridge we were pleased to see that there was one gap waiting for us. Alas our joy was ruined when we tried to fit into the space only to find that it was just a little bit too short. We continued a little further - the bank looked OK but the wind and the increased flow rate of the river water meant that we took some time before we were satisfactorily tied up.

We stayed for some while as we had lunch - enjoying the sourdough loaf Andrew bought earlier (We should also have noted that he also bought some fresh croissants but they lasted but a few minutes after we returned to the boat!

After helping us to cast off (this is the first time in a long while that we have had to deploy the gangplank) he set off to walk back to Lechade and we made our way downstream. Our progress was definitely on the speedy side - but we had little choice but to go with the flow.

Just before Shifford Lock we passed a couple of chaps in a rowing/camping boat - we had seen them yesterday and again several times later. The came from Lechlade this morning.

From here we continued along the very twisty river - at one point we had several minutes delay as the wide beam Kali that we have met several times yesterday and today, became stuck on a very tight and narrow bend.

At Newbridge we opted to take a chargeable mooring rather than risk not finding room where we moored two nights ago. Again, mooring was tricky until Christine recruited a young lad on the bank to help pull us in and to hold the bow rope whilst Mike brought the stern in close enough for him to jump ashore!

17.1 Miles - 6 Locks

Friday 28 August 2020


 Today's Navigation - River Thames

We were now on a timetable as it was arranged to meet with Andrew at Lechlade so that he could cruise back downstream with us tomorrow morning and then walk back to Lechlade along the Thames Path.

As a result we were off just after 8, with - at the time - good weather. The flow on the river did not seem to be significant but as soon as we cast off it pulled the boat away from the bank. The above photo was taken just after Mike untied the bow rope, walked back to the stern and took the stern rope and pin aboard.

We made good speed up to Newbridge where we had to choose which arch to use - unlike other rivers the navigable channel is not marked on the bridge itself.

Just after passing the bridge we caught up with a wide beam that had overnighted on the moorings close by. Unfortunately it was finding the depth, width and bendiness quite a challenge - we later learned that the owner (who had a couple of friends with him) had never ventured above Reading before and normally lives aboard between there and London. (It kindly allowed to go ahead of it at the first lock which was rather decent of them)

There a few landmarks on this stretch of the river but a few footbridges give some sense of progress. This one is on the cut above Shifford Lock but they all look remarkably similar in design and construction.

Former defensive pill boxes were constructed regularly along the river bank and most of them near here still remain. They do not seem to have found new uses but are probably too expensive to remove! Our imaginations ran riot about what sort of Captain Mainwaring was responsible for ensuring that suitable Home Guards were sent across many fields (seldom any seemed near any roads) to defend against an imagined enemy.

Tadpole Bridge carries a road but has only the single arch. We have not discovered how it gained its name but have seen that it was constricted in the late 18C and is probably the only bridge constructed at this crossing.

Above Radcot Lock we paused to use the elsan disposal point. As we pulled away the weather was still pleasant but . . . 

Just before Radcot Bridge we passed these striking teepees, a different form of holiday location.

The bridge is well signed as being narrow - mainly for the benefit of wide boats but longer boats also have to take into account the tight bend just above. (Actually this photo was taken whilst steering hard left!)

At the next lock we took on water (this was one of the few locks we found staffed) but as we prepared to set off once more, rain arrived. This soon turned into a very heavy and prolonged shower so that we were glad when we finally found a place to moor (not marked on any of our maps but already had two boats moored nearby) We were able to bring the boat right into the side and the bank was just the height to step ashore.

A rather warm and sunny spell persuaded us to set off again. All of the locks now have offices/huts for lock keepers as the typical lock houses have generally been sold off. The gardens are usually still well kept but it is obvious that this has been quite a challenge during the lockdown restrictions.

Before long we could see rather striking clouds gathering which then turned into thunder clouds and torrential rain. With nowhere at all to moor there was no alternative but perseverance (and eventually a change into dry clothes)

Just above Buscot Lock there is a building that was originally a water works but now seems to be a store for the group of moorings.

St John's Lock is the last lock on the river and, despite a Self Service sign on display, did have the keeper on hand to assist us through. When we failed to obtain a licence at Eynsham yesterday we were advised that we would be able to do so at St John's. However, when Christine said to the keeper that we did not have a licence is reply was that very few people do! It seems that Covid regulations make it too difficult to resume issuing visitor licences at the locks. Question is, will kit be the same on the way back down?

We arrived at Lechlade and pleased to find plenty of room on the moorings close to the Hapenny Bridge. As we were tying up a couple of these planes arrived on their final approach into RAF Fairford. Se later found a local newspaper report three days ago that a group of B52's had unexpectedly been redeployed to this airfield. W\as this one of them?

No sooner had we sat down and followed up a voicemail message and Andrew arrived - he had spotted us from the bridge before receiving Christine's text to let him know where were moored! Later we walked into the own for a few items from the local convenience shop.

16.7 Miles - 6 Locks

Thursday 27 August 2020

Newbridge (nearly)

 Today's Navigations - Oxford Canal, River Thames

The day began pleasantly with generally blue skies. The temperature seemed warm enough for boating.

So, here is the half-promised photo of our overnight mooring. Look closely and you might spot an untidy bag on the bows. This is actually a part bag of solid fuel which was doubling up as a makeshift fender holder. When we moored the only part of the boat touching a hard side was right front, forward of the cabin so our usual hanging fenders were of no use. Combined with our spare home made Calder and Hebble hand spike (still kept for old times' sake!) the bag and a proper fender worked well and nothing was lost. What you cannot really see is that behind us the reeds occupied much more of the width of the canal so that we were almost hidden from view for boats coming down the canal.

We set off just after 8 and progressed down to our final lock on the main line of the Oxford Canal - alas just after we cast off (since we could not get on or off the boat at the stern this took a while) another boat appeared around the corner and etiquette demanded that we let them continue - bad manners knowingly to pull out in front of a boat, especially just before a lock.

Turned out that they too were heading towards Lechlade, where the boat is normally moored, and we kept them company until we moored at lunch time, along with another boat waiting at Eynsham Lock.

Immediately after where the lift bridge is being re-built we passed under a former railway bridge. This was built to carry a loop line belonging to the London and North Western Railway to allow trains to pass between the line to Evesham and one to Islip, without having to go into Oxford. It has long been abandoned with little sign on the ground as it is largely underneath the large A40 roundabout at Peartree Hill.

We caught up with the boat ahead at Dukes Lock.

Below the lock we then turned right, under the bridge just beyond the lock cottage. Immediately there is a lock that only rises about 370 mm, controlling the flow of water from the river into the final section of the canal into Oxford.

The top paddle mechanism is reminiscent of some found on the Calder and Hebble. Those who know that we are paranoid that windlasses should not be left on an open paddle, in case they suddenly drop and whizz off, may be surprised by the photo but this one is held by a catch and is the only way to hold the paddle up.

The first part of the link to the river is called Dukes Cut - actually today many people would probably use the name for the whole length to join the river above King's Lock but the second part is really also river, once navigable to Woolvercot Mill. (Pedant's Alert: that is the name on the 1887 OS Map)

After ascending Eynsham Lock we let the other two boats go on ahead whilst we attempted to buy a visitor licence for the river. Under the current Covid arrangements, the keeper here is not selling them and it is only possible that we may be asked when we get as far as Sty John's Lock, just before Lechlade.

The typical lock keepers cottages have now been mostly sold off as resident keepers, largely available 24/7, are a thing of the past. This one looks as if it is gradually trying to forget that it is next to he river!

By now the sky was really grey and the atmosphere much chillier. Ere long the promised rain arrived, although for the rest of the morning it was more nuisance rain rather than heavy.

The mobile home park at Bablock Hythe is truly enormous and we seemed to take for ever to pass it by. It is kept very neat and tidy.

The rain gradually intensified and by the time we passed through Northmoor Lock - still with its traditional Paddle and Rhymer weir - we were into wet weather gear properly! As a result, we started to look for a mooring - on this part of the Thames they are very infrequent.

Fortunately, just after Hart's Footbridge we saw on our old Nicholsons Guide a mooring marked that is not on the Waterway Routes - we sort of recall stopping here 10 or 11 years ago. There is only room for one boat so we were lucky it was empty. The other two boats pressed on hoping to patronise the pub at the next bridge.

The rain was really heavy during the afternoon and we reluctantly opted to stay put until the morning.

There was a bright sunny spell after 5 but as there was little chance of finding another mooring any time soon, we moved no further today. At least that direction in the photo was just right for a tv signal.

11.2 Miles - 5 Locks