Tuesday 31 August 2021


 Today's Canal - Oxford

The downward trend in the weather continued with more greyness and .cooler temperatures. there were a few times when we could feel dampness in the sir but no actual rain arrived.

This next section we have done many times before, including just two days later in the season last year. It is far from dull and certainly not boring but it does get a little harder to find new things along the way to talk about. It is also less busy than 2020 (but that was one of the few almost unrestricted times when nearly everyone took advantage of a staycation. The volunteer lock keeper at Claydon said that yesterday they had around 30 boats almost 25% down on what we heard last year. Nevertheless on this contour canal (meaning it is almost continuous bends!) there are few moments for the steerer to daydream.

We had moored just before the entrances to Cropredy Marina. Last year, we noticed that extensive earthworks were underway to create a third basin for this ;popular marina. The moorings are now complete and boats have started to move in - as we could just about see, peering over the hedge.

We had delays at each of the first three locks - there is a medium length pound in between them. The first was Broadmoor Lock and its is all but obligatory to mention when passing this way to say that those was where we first saw Take Five, our previous boat which got us back into boat ownership after a gap of  nearly forty years. In the intervening period our circumstances meant that we were restricted to a hire boat.

We spotted this tiny boat yesterday in Cropredy and almost included it in our Unusual Boats Gallery, but forgot about it! In the first queue Mike chatted to the single hander (plus dog). Turns lout that the boat belongs to a friend as also does the dog and he is dog-sitting for a few days whilst friend is busy at work. The boat came as compensation! The boat was originally a lifeboat for a Dutch ship and was too large to fit in narrow locks. The friend works at a boatyard and in his spare time converted it, including cutting out the middle - lengthways. We have never heard of the narrowing of a boat before, although lengthening an shortening are not uncommon.

At Elkington's Lock there is a small hit which would not doubt, with an open fire, have kept the lock keeper warm in winter whilst waiting for boats to arrive. He (and it would almost certainly have been a he originally although many women worked on the boats in later years) could have kept a lookout or arrivals from downstream through an open door but what about seeing those coming downstream?

The answer was a small window! Seeming the only one to let light in)

We arrived at the bottom of the five lock Claydon flight about half past ten but it was half an hour later before we could stat our ascent. As well as two or three somewhat slow boats ahead of us, there was a steady flow of boats coming down and sometimes it was necessary to wait awhile to take turns.

At Middle Lock we did see the volunteer lock keeper - he was on his own today - but he quickly went up to the top lock to see how the queue there was managing before walking back down to his hut.

The Claydon flight is locked at night as a water conservation measure. Although this is well publicised with plenty of notices at locks and elsewhere, it is unfortunate that there are two slightly different versions of it. One simply requires boaters to clear the flight by 6pm whilst the other says that they will not be admitted after 4.30.

After completing the flight it was still too early for a lunch stop so we continued to Fenny Compton (the narrow parts of the former Fenny Tunnel gave some inexperienced boaters 'fun') where we might have taken on water but a boat was occupying it, but not using the water point!

Bridge 143 is known as Hay Bridge, we don't know why as the fields around were full of straw not hay (!) but is ties fin with the name of the farm just around the corner called Haybridge Wharf Farm. What puzzles us is that the farm is not marked on any of he old or modern OS maps but the wharf is evident in the picture.

Boundary Lift Bridge (normally open) takes its name from being almost exactly on the boundary between Warwickshire and Oxfordshire.

At Bridge 139 there is a signpost to the D'Arcy Dalton Way footpath (sorry but we missed ta,king a closer picture!). The LDWA web site tells us that W P d'Arcy Dalton worked for many years to preserve rights of way in Oxfordshire. It starts very close to this point (although just into Warwickshire) at Wormleighton Reservoir and ends near Swindon.

We had a late but lengthy lunch break and did not set off again until almost four by which time extra layers were definitely needed. Ahead was the long and meandering summit pound that is immediately recognisable as the work of James Brindley who was a pioneer canal surveyor and engineer but who lived before the development of the capability of excavating deep cuttings or building significant embankments and so had to follow the natural contours of the land.

We eventually pulled in for the night at, as it happens, exactly the same mooring spot as last year!

11.0 Miles - 8 Locks

Monday 30 August 2021


Today's Canal - Oxford

The weather was again somewhat disappointing - cool, perhaps at times chilly, and generally light cloud. No sunny spells to give hope! We were away in good time although a boat came around the previous corner just as we were finishing casting off and proceeded to pass us. As a result we followed them up the next few locks.

Shortly after setting off we passed the 'entrance' to Grimsbury Arm, now used for moorings. Originally, the canal went straight ahead, along the line of the arm, rather than turning right as it does today.

In 2004 a new dual carriageway link road to the nearby M40 junction was built, one of the larger road projects in Oxfordshire for some years. Existing road intersections were replaced with roundabouts which, of course, take up a lot more space. One roundabout was needed just where the new road crossed the canal. The canal was given a short diversion with a bridge carrying the road overhead.

Just around the corner a winding hole is formed in what was the place where the old line re-joined the canal - the remaining length is a little longer than shown as most of it is now overgrown.

A little further and we came to the plot of land for sale that we featured in our blog last year. We were not really surprised to see that, for offers over £100,000, it remains unsold. We wondered whether the short branch had been some sort of wharf but on later investigation we found that the estate agent indicates that the plot comes with 22m of river frontage, as well as that on the canalside. 'Stream' might be a better description but it runs for about two kilometres and disappears amongst houses in the Hardwick area of town. We have not yet found any name for the stream.

We continued through Hardwick, Little Bourton and Slat Mill Locks - at each there was a steady flow of one up, one down. Although we had short waits, there was no threat of a major holdup. For the most part, crew from waiting boats helped out with opening and losing gates and paddles. A couple of single handers all but demanded that they should be let off dong any of the work! How to win friends . . . 

The final lock of the day turned out to be Cropredy. We found a good mooring just after the lock for our lunch stop. Claydon Locks, just a little further ahead, might have been a feasible target but water saving measures mean that boats have to clear the flight before 6 o'clock when they are then locked for the night. However, we allowed lunch to lengthen until it was unlikely that we would get there in time and perhaps not have as good a mooring as where we were. Decision made - stay put!

4.7 Miles - 4 Locks

Sunday 29 August 2021


 Today's Canal - Oxford

The weather today, all day, was more typical of early autumn rather than the later August Bank Holiday. But it remained pleasant enough, especially when working locks.

Although we have seen this canal much busier at this time of the year, it was only at locks that we were much affected. However, at most of them we saw a queue ahead of us of two boats.

We set off in good time, despite waking a little later than on recent days. The view in much the same direction as last night's sunset still looks good in daylight.

A couple of minutes after setting off we passed under Chisnell Lift Bridge. Apart from the busy footbridge in the centre of Banbury, all the other lift bridges we passed today are normally left open. Indeed, in many cases they seem now to be more decorative than functional.

These cows were in procession off to a hard day's work in the fields, converting grass into milk!

When the canal was first in use, working the bridges must have been a real chore as we passed almost as many 'former bridges'.

We passed through Aynho boatyard without stopping - we will take on water later when we also use the sanitary station in Banbury. A long line of moored boats, either side of the bridge, meant slow progress but it was even slower as we were following a boat that tows a shed on  water! Fortunately they let us pass by soon after but we chatted with the couple on board at a couple of the locks. He has injured his foot but is determined to make it back to Adderbury to join in with his local Morris Side!

Above Nell Bridge lock we saw the well-known and popular Pig Place - they sell all sorts of pig products but they have a strong following of people who come to them just for their freshly made bacon butties!

This first of two close encounters today with the M40. It is close to the canal for a long distance - all of today and much more - so the noise is a bit much. presumably people who live in Banbury and the nearby villages get used to it.

Good to see evidence of new piling being installed - looked a well-constructed re-build of the towpath edge. When properly installed, Armco is still the most  durable of the options for edging - although the concrete works of the 1930's job creation period comes a close second. Some of the more 'environmental' solutions have yet to attain the same lasting ability.

Work on the cottage at Kings Sutton lock is still continuing but at least it is occupied, unlike a number of others which are too isolated for contemporary living.

The offside yard still looks a bit like a maintenance depot!

This former lift bridge is becoming even more former with quite a bit of the abutments missing - we felt the bricks under the water as we passed through the narrow gap.

The fire damaged cottage at Grants Lock is looking even more unloved than a year ago when we last came this way. Alas, its lack of vehicle access, other than canal boat, makes it an unattractive option for most people.

We were keen to get to Samuelson Bridge on the edge of Banbury by three o'clock as we wanted to do a good stock-up of our food stores at the Morrisons supermarket which is only a couple of hundred yards from the canal. Christine hopped off at the bridge to start on the shop whilst Mike moored up - very luckily there was room for us just after the bridge - the section the other side was completely full! Mike joined her as soon as possible - if nothing else a good packhorse was needed to carry from the car park to the boat - we used a trolley for the first half but could not take it beyond the limits of the car park.

Next, we went the short short distance to the service block - we had quite a wait as another boat was already on the water point and the tap is not the fastest. As we left, another boat arrived for the same purpose.

Banbury lock was the only one today where we did not have to queue.

The lock is quickly followed by the only part-mechanised lift bridge today - hand turned hydraulic mechanism.

Moored just after the bridge was nb Gabriel - a link to their blog is in the list to the right of this page. They are keen supporters of BCF and Canal Ministries. Alas. they were not at home, as far as we could see.

The redevelopment on both sides of the canal in the town centre is coming on well - sadly the older shopping centre is having a hard time with the closures following the pandemic. A new footbridge links the two sides.

We only went a little further, just past Sovereign Wharf where we were tempted by a free space in an otherwise busy set of moorings. We had hoped to get to a place where we could use the tv satellite tonight but time was passing so we gave in!

8.5 Miles - 5 Locks

Saturday 28 August 2021


 Today's Canal - Oxford

The last blog entry left us arriving at Lower Heyford just over a week ago. The following day we returned home as we had a number of dates in the diary over the next week. In the morning Mike collected the car from Long Buckby station where we had left it during the main part of the last trip. Although it was in the station car park, we found the parking on a new (to us) web site called YourParkingSpace. They were able to offer a more convenient option than JustPark which we have used once or twice before.

The train journey was in four legs - from Heyford to Banbury, then Leamington Spa, on to Coventry and Rugby before arriving at Long Buckby on time. Overall, it did not take very long and most of the changes took around ten minutes - the longest was just over half an hour. A few minutes later, Mike was back in the car and driving down the motorways to Lower Heyford. The only difficult part was then loading the car as the nearest mooring space was the wrong side of the railway - hence 30 steps up and 30 steps down the station footbridge. We were home mid afternoon.

During the week we had planned to take our three grand daughters on a trip to London on Tuesday and return to the boat on Friday, but a diary clash meant that we had to make the trip on the Friday. As a result we opted to drive up to the boat on Thursday, leaving home as early as possible, after a quick visit to Devizes market.

The good news was that there was now a mooring slot only half as far from the station as before but we also needed to fill the water tank and then re-fuel at the wharf where again we were greeted most warmly.

An early start on Friday morning as we had arranged to pick up the two from Windsor at Slough station (Adrian kindly brought them to meet us). Fortunately we gave ourselves a good margin on the time of the drive down as the sat nav took us to Langley station not Slough, despite us asking for 'Slough Station'!

One of the benefits of the progress so far on the much delayed Crossrail project is that really fast trains run from Slough into Paddington - 14 minutes. There we met with the third GD who lives in east London.

Our first destination was the V & A - all the main museums seemed to require booking slots in advance even though admission remains free (there is strong pressure to make a donation!) When Christine looked online a few days earlier, all the tickets for the Natural History Museum for the whole week had been taken - so V&A was really second choice. 

For most of the time the three girls looked around on their own leaving us to take a more leisurely look at our own choices. We spent quite some time in the newly refurbished hall that contains the Raphael Cartoons - seven huge paintings on paper that were done as a commission for a pope who wanted to 'finish' the Sistine Chapel.

We all came together for lunch in the courtyard garden - a great relaxing space especially on a dry day - there was some sunshine but also a fairly stiff breeze.

By now we had sussed out that both the V&A and the NHM had 'walk-up' entrances as well as for ticket holders and that both were remarkably quiet. So we took a chance and hopped across the road to the Natural History Museum (originally first  choice) As before we mostly split in to two groups although for one section, Alice joined us for a break in the museum garden - not quite as relaxing as it was close to busy roads.

When we all gathered together inside, Mike spotted that we had missed one section in a corner labelled Wildlife Garden. We could not easily see what might be there but a sense of adventure took us out there! It turned out to be the star attraction of the visit - a really relaxing spot with a chance to look for the many different species that have been seen there since that plot had been allowed to 'go wild'. 

It was nigh on closing time when we left but we had a table booked at a nearby pizza restaurant (by common request) The pizzas were great and much appreciated but they were eclipsed in reaction by the starters of dough balls which came first!

Finally we re-traced our steps - back to Paddington, where we bade farewell to Ellie, and then Slough were we met up with Adrian once more. Although it was not quickly getting dark, our car journey was uneventful and were back at the boat not long after nine - and asleep soon  after ten!

Which update now brings us to today. It has to be admitted that we were in no mood for a frantic and quick getaway. Mike had previously booked a space for the car in Banbury using YourParkingSpace again. He drove up in plenty of time to catch the 11:08 train back to Heyford - a massive £3.15 for the ticket! The train was exactly on time, only a couple of stops down the line and Mike was back at the boat well before 11:30. The benefit of moving the car up to Banbury is that it will make the car shuffle at the end of this trip a lot simpler - there are only a few trains a day to Heyford.

We were soon leaving our mooring spot and heading north on the Oxford Canal. At Upper Heyford, Manor Farm and parish church sit alongside and just above the canal. New College Barn dates back to the start of the fifteenth century.

Allens Lock was then not far and although we had not seen a boat going ahead of us for a while we still had quite wait for two slow boats, one up and one down.

Somerton Deep Lock is one of the more well known and recognised locks on the Southern Oxford. At   3.7m rise (12 ft 1 in sounds a lot more!) , it is one of the deepest on the system. It is also remote and can only be accessed by canal - there is not even a private track to it. It seems as if there is a lookout window visible from way back before the bridge but actually it is not real and in any case, what use would that have been to a lock keeper who needed to be near at hand to the lock itself.

One of the consequences of being so deep is that silt and other debris can easily build up behind the bottom gate and prevent it from opening fully. The boat that had just gone up the lock kindly came back to warn us that they had had considerable difficulty in getting in and only managed it by flushing extra water down. The lock fools the unwary at first by having very easy bottom gate paddles to draw and the gate starts to open almost on its own. But is is clear that something lies behind it. Christine brought the boat up gently but we soon found that it was stuck partly into the lock. Mike pushed as hard on the gate as we could but still not enough. We had several attempts and then resorted to trying the option of flushing water down but that made no difference. Finally we went for the brute force method. (This is not normally recommended as it is all too easy to end up with the boat firmly wedged neither in nor out) Christine reversed back a bit further to get a good run at it and Mike pushed on the gate beam even harder and although there was a heart-stopping moment of hesitance, almost beyond our belief, suddenly the boat was through!

We were also interested to see how the house was faring as Pip on Oleanna had reported a few days ago that the porch had been removed. However, in the meantime work has continued and a structure is taking place.

By now we were looking for a stopover as getting above Nell Bridge lock would have left us quite a bit later than felt comfortable for today! Fortunately there was plenty of space on the moorings just before Chisnell Lift Bridge.

And sunset now marks dinner time!

4.8 Miles - 3 Locks

Monday 16 August 2021

Lower Heyford

 Today's Canal - Oxford

As soon as we set off we passed through Kidlington Green Lock, which was then followed by Roundham Lock.

A little later we then arrived into Thrupp. Before the main lift bridge and services, the older cottages line a narrow road  very close to the canal, for about 300m. In the middle of the terrace we noticed one for sale. Later we looked up its details on the estate agent site. It is only the right half of the building in the photo. It has two bedrooms and downstairs the two main rooms have been knocked into one with a tiny kitchen to the rear. The front door opens directly into the living room. On the market for £400K!

We stopped at the service block for the usual operations. Whilst we were there, animated conversations took place on the lift bridge with local people and a member of CaRT staff. We are not sure what is happening but it seems that a car tried to rush over the bridge whilst it was being opened for a boat to pass through, causing the bridge not to operate for a while. Although it is a narrow lane, it is also very busy as.just over the other side is the very popular Annie's Tea Room. It also seemed that there have been an unusually high number of callouts regarding the bridge. The CaRT person's concern was to find a way of reducing the number of incidents.

The large control box next to the bridge has recently been decorated with a large number of knitted objects!

Shortly after leaving Thrupp the canal passes under the Oxford to Banbury line (it does this several times!)  Just before the bridge is this remnant of what appears to be another former railway bridge. Although we have been this way many times over the years we have not really taken any notice of it. Later we consulted the older OS maps and found that a branch line joined the main line here - the Blenheim and Woodstock Line. Wikipedia tells us that the four mile branch was built in 1890 for the Duke of Marlborough.Trains ran directly to and from Oxford. Seven years later the Duke sold it to he Great Western Railway. From the 1930's the line went into gradual decline with fewer and fewer trains being run. It closed in 1954.

Our final lock of this trip was Dashwood which in June suffered a catastrophic failure of the bottom gate balance beam. (The balance beam connects to the heel post of the gate with a mortice and tenon joint so it is inevitably the weakest point)  A temporary repair as been made that does feel somewhat 'delicate'. We are not sure how users are supposed to judge or moderate the force they use to open the gate.

During the day we passed nb Oleanna whose blog is listed to the right of this page. They were moored up but there was no chance for us to moor so we hovered mid channel (made more difficult by a quite strong wind) so that we could have at least a brief chat. In any event they had a date to keep so, all in all, no chance for a shared cuppa. But it was good to see for real, people that mostly we encounter via the internet.

As we came through Heyford Wharf, a couple boat people separately waved cheerfully and  called us by name. They were amongst the staff at the boatyard when we had a mooring there - and we left seven years ago! Memories are long on the canal -and always have been.

9.9 Miles - 7 Locks