Thursday 3 September 2020

Long Itchington

 Today's Canals - Oxford, Grand Union

We wanted to check in at Marston Doles as early as possible to secure the best position in the queue or when the top lock was opened to traffic at 10 am.

We had about an hour to cruise - there was rain when we awoke but it had dried up by the time we set off just after 8. Whilst it was noticeably warmer than the last couple of days, the sky was still very overcast.

The sign alongside this bell tent gives a web site for hillfarmglamping but we were a little unsure what special facilities are offered to visitors, apart from the windbreak with a table and a couple of wooden chairs.

When we arrived at the first lock, the closed sign was still in place along with substantial security on the top paddles. However, to our amazement there were no other boats waiting and we were in pole position! 

Others did soon arrive and by the time we were allowed to start down the flight (well before the official start time of 10 am) another six were waiting behind us.

Last time we missed seeing the buffalo but today there ere several fields.One in particular looked very willing to pose.

With traffic in both directions we made good progress. At the penultimate lock the pound below was rather low but an upcoming boat sat in the middle very close to the lock itself. It seemed rather put out that we had to weave our way around. His comeuppance was that he did not know about the tow from one boat to another and ended up all over the place! The volunteers on the bottom lock explained that they had warned him to keep to the middle as the pound was low and he was taking it rather too literally, not realising that two boats have to share the middle!

By the time we were at the final lock, rain had returned and stayed with us for the next hour or so, gradually petering out to a drizzle and then back to overcast but dry. We stopped briefly at the service block for elsan and rubbish before continuing on the Napton Junction, a sharp turn left onto the Grand Union and a short run to Calcutt where we pulled in for a lunch break.

After dropping own the first Calcutt lock we pulled onto the diesel point to fill up. As always the staff here seem very friendly and helpful. As we continued below Calcutt towards Stockton the sun gradually made an appearance and the rest of the afternoon was very pleasant indeed.

The Stockton locks are all close together - the gates are not difficult but the candlestick paddles are somewhat exhausting with 22 turns.

One annoying feature when descending is that if entering through a single open gate, just as the boat is in the lock the other gate opens itself as if by magic. With just two in the crew this is a nuisance because it is the only reason for anyone to go around to the offside. Our solution is for the steerer to move the stern across to that side, get off briefly to shut the gate and then move the boat back to the towpath side.

The two Itchington Locks follow after a short distance, passing the popular Blue Lias pub. These are significantly deeper than the Stockton ones. The bottom lock also has the added bonus (!) of a lock ladder with very short toeholds - not nice to use.

Soon after the last lock we found a good mooring, complete with a tv signal as well!

11.8 Miles - 22 Locks

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