Wednesday 2 September 2020

Priors Hardwick

 Today's Canal - Oxford

The day started well with a bright blue sky and we set off in good time in an attempt to beat the crowd.

The locks today divided into three groups: the first four are well separated, up to an hour apart. The second three are treated as individual locks, each with their own name, but are almost within walking distance of each other. The third set form the Clayton flight of five locks, all bunched together. The first lock of the day was only a short distance from our overnight mooring - Hardwick Lock.

The M40 motorway intersects the Oxford canal several times but this is the last we shall see of it on this trip. 

Although our early start meant that we had a clear passage through the first couple of locks, by the time we reached Cropredy Lock queues were beginning to built up but usually only 2 or 3 at the most. But it did give a chance for more than the usual fleeting sentence or two with other boaters.

Elkington's Lock has a typical small hut for the lock keeper to shelter in. They come complete with fireplace and stove to keep warm and to make food.

But bad news was brewing with hints from boaters coming down of problems ahead. As we neared the start of the third section, the Clayton flight we realised that there was a considerable queue, probably ten boats ahead of us. Although some boaters blamed the delays on the fact that the bottom lock has only one working bottom paddle, we know from past experience that such queues are nit unknown at the busy time of the year. At the moment there is, however, a restriction of the use of the Claydon flight as the main feeder reservoir to the summit pound is low on water after a dry summer (!) We also timed the bottom lock emptying which took three minutes, not really a cause for delay. Most of the time in a turn around is taken by steerers manoeuvring in and out of the lock, a time that is critically dependent on the skill of the steerer.

It took just under two hours before it was our turn, and by then rain was beginning to arrive and rapidly turned from light drizzle to persistently heavy rain.

The flow of traffic coming down was slowing an we had a good run up the flight - 50 minutes for 5 locks. A couple of volunteers were on the middle lock which gave a welcome boost. They were keeping a tally of boats passing through in the day and we were 42 - 21 up and 21 down.

As we approached the top lock a member of CaRT staff arrived to close up the flight for the day. She told us that quite a few boats - around 7 or 8 in our calculation - were unable to make it into the flight by the 3 o'clock deadline and will have to spend the night in the queue waiting for the opening at 9.30 tomorrow.

The afternoon on the summit pound was too wet and gloomy to take pictures - here is the one that we did take, just to prove it!  

Marston Doles and the Napton locks are also subject to restrictions - open again at 10 in the morning. We opted to press on as far as we could manage and get ahead of the main crowd. We passed seven moored at the popular mooring near the Wormleigton radio mast and it was nearly six, almost at Priors Hardwick, when we pulled in. This leaves just under an hour to get to Marston Doles in the morning.

13.8 Miles - 12 Locks

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