Sunday 30 April 2023

Washford Quarry

Today's Canal - Oxford

We moored overnight just beyond the road and rail bridge at Lower Heyford, close to the railway line. Fortunately it is not much used in the evenings and at night.

The day was largely overcast, with a few brighter spells as  with a few brighter spells as well cruised for the morning but by dusk drizzle, followed by proper rain, had arrived. 

A long line of moored boats came first but then we were out into the open countryside. After about 20 minutes we arrived at Dashwood's Lock, quite deep and we had to fill it first.

The second lock came soon after and we were just beaten to it by a boat coming up. They had come from Abingdon and were quite open about the fact that they ignored the Red Boards warning, not wanting to wait the three weeks that other boater's on the river had told them about!

We continued to Washford Quarry where we moored a number of times when we were based at Lower Heyford. This space provides a useful open space - two of our grand children especially enjoyed exploring the area.

As there was just enough room for us to moor we opted to stay here for the rest of the day, spinning out the distance from here to Oxford and the Thames. Unlike the last two nights with no internet signal, we did have enough at least to upload blogs! (and to check that the river is still closed . . .) Too late we discovered that we were behind the camera!

A hire boat, returning to Oxfordshire Narrowboats at 9 in the  morning asked if they could moor alongside as they discovered what we had already found that the remaining part of the former wharf  had too many fallen stones to permit mooring. They also had planned to meet up with someone else here. They stayed here all day and when they finally left they gave us a present from Spain (a pack of cured meats!)

We had a very lazy, but did take a short walk up the steps to the quarry. When Mike went there was a large family party who had a barbeque in the fire pit and also a small child size motor bike that some of the children were enjoying riding in the large space (suitably supervised!) 

Eventually the promised rain arrived and our mooring companions set off to complete the final two locks before the end of their trip.

4.0 Miles - 2 Locks

Saturday 29 April 2023

Car Shuffle

Today's Canal - Oxford

If the river levels permit, our trip plan is to visit the Kennet and Avon which we have not been onto for about 10 years, even though we now live just 50 m from the canal in Devizes! we hope, on a slow schedule, to get as far has 'home' this trip so today Mike moved the car back home.

This was a somewhat complicated trip beginning with a 90 minute drive back the way we came yesterday. The roads were, if anything, even quieter than yesterday so he made good time. Good enough to catch a bus to Swindon an hour earlier than planned. This will not affect the arrival back at Heyford station as the service there is only every two hours. However, it is always useful to gain what time is possible just in case of delays further on.

From the bus station in Swindon is was just a few minutes walk to the trains. After buying his ticket, Mike walked across to the correct platform only to be confronted with a message displayed that said that the service from Didcot to Oxford would be a replacement bus. Just as well he had the extra time!

The problem (which we had heard about but not connected it to this journey) is the failure of Nuneham Viaduct where the line crossed the Thames. Repairs to one of the supporting pillars earlier in the year proved insufficient and now a much more substantial project is needed and the line is closed meanwhile.

However, it seems that the schedule we had downloaded from National Rail took this delay into account and Mike arrived into Oxford with about an hour and a half to wait! At least this gave plenty of time to buy and eat a baguette from one the several food outlets in the station concourse.

The train ride to Heyford was very short and Mike was soon walking along the towpath back to the boat. Warned, Christine already had the kettle ready!

Meanwhile Christine had unpacked and stowed away everything we brought from home as well as the supermarket - we left it last night so that we had enough time to prepare for our evening out!

By now the water level in our tank was perilously low so we moved a short distance down to the water point. We knew that it was very slow but it took well over an hour to full up, we were so low! Fortunately the visitor mooring next to the water point remained free and when we rolled up the hosepipe we quickly bagged a space before anyone else came along. Actually, we were just in time as almost immediately another boat came alongside - there was just enough space for two.

0.6 Miles - 0 Locks

Friday 28 April 2023

Back to the Boat

Today's Canal - Oxford

We had managed to pack into the car most things, apart from fridge and freezer items last night so we were ready to depart in good time, The drive up to Upper Heyford was straightforward with no real delays, but we called first at the boatyard in Lower Heyford. We had asked them to take a look at our stern gland which is leaking more than it should. However, for various reasons (including the pump to empty the dry dock) they were unable to help at this time.

We moved the boat down into Allens Lock so that we could unload from the car almost straight into the boat. We had reduced the amount to be brought from home by delaying a large supermarket shop until this afternoon. So we reversed the boat to the nearest available space before having lunch.

The nearest supermarket is in Bicester Village, about 15 minutes drive away. We stocked up quite well as we are not sure of shopping opportunities in the next few days.

The bad news is that the Environment agency are still showing the first reach below the end of the Oxford Canal as on Red Boards. It has been like that for a while and although there is optimism that it will be navigable again fairly soon, no-on is doing much confident prediction.

We had just about enough water to last us until tomorrow so, despite planning to fill up along at Lower Heyford, we put that off. We had already booked a table at The Bell for this evening - to avoid cooking! - so we moved to just before Mill Lane lift bridge, the nearest to the pub.

Although the fare at The Bell is what might be expected in a village pub, it was well done and there was a positive vibe in the place.

1.0 Mile - 1 Lock

Thursday 13 April 2023

Upper Heyford

Today's Canal - Oxford

As predicted, today was generally sunny, just a single shower (complete with just a little hail!) At times the wind could be quite sharp but through the main part of the say it was comfortable.

Before we set off, Mike walked back to the shopping centre alongside Banbury Lock and took pictures of the various bridges. 

The main stretch, now that the new development is complete, has a very different feel, much more overwhelmed by the buildings but the tightly packed moorings added to the sense of enclosure.

Inside one of the new sections, a large space - named Lock 29 after the adjacent lock - has been given over to a multi food and drink facility. It seems that it is specialising in 'street food; but where is the street? Whilst the undecorated, dark image may be today's fashion, but will it seen feel dated? Several units have yet to be let.

We set off at our usual time and headed southwards out of the town. A temporary structure shrouded in plastic has been erected alongside the bridge closest to Morrisons. We could not see what is hidden inside nor any way to access it!

Soon after we passed the edge of the town and the now complete new housing estate, we passed under the first of numerous lift bridges which are a style distinctive to this canal. Fortunately, all but one today are normally left one. Even that one, Chisnell is often listed in guides as 'normally open'  but it is well balanced and easy to open.

The M40 motorway that Mike drove along yesterday crosses the canal twice fairly close together as the latter winds its way around the contours and the route of the River Cherwell.

The first lock of the day - Grant's Lock - was badly damaged in a fire some years ago. Like several of the former lock cottages, it looks an attractive proposition to convert but many are remote and lack basic services. Whilst nothing much has been done here since we last saw it, a caravan is now parked alongside and appears to be being lived in. Perhaps next time we will see progress!

It was possible to see from the train yesterday that many of the fields and meadows along here are currently under water., but they do look as if they ought to be reservoirs.

A somewhat further on, the water level in this field is higher than the canal and has breached the  towpath and canal bank. Hopefully this will be dealt with so that when the field dries out, the canal will not drain back into it.

We had been a bit concerned about Nell Bridge where,just below the Cherwell flows into and across the canal. A couple of weeks ago boats were advised not to navigate - red warning - as the river was too high. However, although an information board says that the gauge is under Nell Bridge, we could not see it. This road bridge has been much widened and the old bridge, part of the lock on the other side, can just be seen here. 

We had no difficulty in getting the boat under the old bridge - when the river rises, headroom can be an issue - when we arrived at the river itself and Aynho Lock, there was very little of the yellow section in the clear! 

More flooding near Somerton

Chisnell Lift Bridge gave us some trouble because by now the wind had strengthened considerably and was side on to the boat, pushing it and Christine who was steering, into the offside shrubs. A nasty bramble attacked Christine and left her bleeding from the lip!

Then, at Somerton Deep Lock, we had quite a struggle to bring the boat onto the lock landing - which was on the up wind side and opposite a weir stream. We had to tie up whilst the lock was prepared (another boat had just gone down) and then drive rather dramatically at full speed until safely inside the lock, stopping equally quickly to avoid running into the bottom gates. The last time we came though we had a lot of difficulty with the bottom gate (and reposts of other boaters were similar) which would not open fully. This time we came through without a problem but Mike was relieved when the crew of a following boat arrived to help close it.

We continued on through Heyford Common Lock and moored for the night just above Allen's Lock.

11.9 Miles - 6 Locks

Wednesday 12 April 2023

Car Shuffle

Today's Canal - Oxford

The forecast for today was not very good whilst it looked a bit more promising for tomorrow. As a result, Mike opted to do the car shuffle today.

National Rail Enquiries gave options either via Birmingham or Oxford and Worcester. Both were the same price and little difference in time. However, the route via Birmingham involves a walk between stations so he took the Oxford option instead.

The timings gave around 10 minutes for both changes. However, the first train had a delayed departure and so was over five minutes late into Oxford. Fortunately, the next train was already waiting at the adjacent platform so there was about two minutes spare!

The next section was the longest and at least there was an at-seat service of coffee. However, it, too, ran about five minutes late and the change at Worcester Foregate entails going down a substantial set of stairs and up the other side. As we pulled into the station one of the on-board staff pointed that the train was already coming into the [platform. Mike had forgotten that it was the shuttle between Worcester and Whitlocks end so had slightly longer than just a normal en route stop. 

On the journey Mike had book a taxi to meet him at Droitwich station which quickly dropped him back at the car in the marina.

After a diversion to Waitrose for lunch material it was on to the motorway. Despite the rain making visibility a bit of an issue the journey was straightforward although a blockage caused by a car fire just after the junction to exit for the Heyfords meant that the slip road was backed up. However, his was not a problem as the schedule gave around an hour wait for the last train back to ban but (only a one in two hours service) Our mooring was only a couple of minutes away from the station entrance.

Meanwhile  Christine had been preparing the boat ready for us to leave it on Friday. Later she went into the nearby shopping centre (somewhat down beat compared with how we remembered from when we moored at Heyford). But she did return with a pressie for Mike!

Tuesday 11 April 2023


Today's Canal - Oxford

The forecast for later in the day was not favourable but when we set off there was another great spring morning.

Three locks ahead of us was Broadmoor Lock which, as we will see in a moment, currently has restricted opening hours. As a result we did not delay our departure from usual. Although the sky here is still blue, the first signs of rain clouds were beginning to creep over the horizon,

Clattercote Wharf is a somewhat odd collection of activities - it now has signs saying that it has a registered organic shop.  Not sure if there is an actual shop but a small stall seemed only to be offering a few jars of jams or preserves.

We have never had any reason to stop here but our previous boat, Take Five, had Clattercote Wharf on its name panel until we had the cabin re-painted. Any time we were asked about we had to explain that this was its former home!

Today's first lock was Elkington's. Signs have been posted by CaRT regarding unauthorised running of water. Whilst we know nothing of the background, the wording of the notice suggests that it hides more than it tells!

At  Varney's Lock we met a member of CaRT staff who was carefully running some water down. She explained that this was the result of  the problems at Broadmoor but was unrelated to the above notice. as you may also notice, the sky had  now clouded over)

And so to Broadmoor Lock where we were met by a team of three hefty chaps! Without ex[plaining one of them immediately took our centre line and pulled us right to the front of the lock - we then soon found that we had to keep the prop turning quite fast to keep us there. It seems that the problem is that the nearside top ground paddle is not closing properly which makes it difficult to open the bottom gates. The flow from that paddle into the lock pulls the boat strongly towards the top. The team were the permanent emergency response group - they needed to be rather burly, rather than the usual volunteer teams - but they appeared to make light work of letting us out! We were well within the morning opening session.

We stopped at Cropredy for the full range of services but had to wait a while for another boat to finish. they were also winding in order to return to there nearby mooring and found that the strengthening wind made it rather difficult. Christine popped to the village shop for some milk whilst we waited on the water tap.

As we passed under Cropredy Mill Bridge, there was a brief burst of sunshine.

Slat Mill Lock seems to have been forgotten by the CaRT image makers - the sign is several generations out of date! 

After a lunch break we continued and as we arrived at Bourton Lock a sudden and very intense rain shower arrived.

At Hardwick Lock, the last before entering Banbury, we found that the footboard on the top gate was several inches below the water level, which also cascaded over both top and bottom gates. Mike decided that his boots were not up to wading through that amount of water so had to work the lock, crossing only via the bottom gates, this adding to the time taken to set the lock ready for Christine to bring the  boat in. With such a flow it also meant that both t op paddles were needed in order to make a level. Since we no longer feel up to 'stepping across' a half open bottom gates, Mike was stranded and unable to open the second gate without getting his boots very wet. Fortunately just at that moment a boat arrived wanting to go up and saved Mike's feet.

We know that we are very close to Banbury when we pass Dink and Malc's house - we know nothing about them except that ever since we moored at Lower Heyford some 15 years ago they have had a huge photo decorating the wall.  Not sure but we think it is probably still the same one!

Alongside is a small parcel of land that we noted in our blog two years ago. Whether or not the asking price was eventually paid, someone has bought it and made themselves a permanent mooring, complete with well mowed lawn and parking area. (Sorry, missed the photo op!)

The canalside developments are now complete and all of the moorings were fully taken (despite an earlier boat telling us that there was plenty of room in Banbury!) Boats on either side mean that moving traffic has to be single file - as we discovered when a boat came up from the lock!

As we came down through Banbury Lock the rain worsened and the wind grew so we were rather relieved to find a spot to moor a short distance ahead. Not quite the location we might have dreamed about but we had no inclination to chase the dream! The stove was soon lit and slices of lemon drizzle cake from Wedges was served with mugs of tea.

6.7 Miles - 8 Locks

Monday 10 April 2023

Claydon Locks

Today's Canal - Oxford

The day began as forecast with continuous rain, not heavy but persistent. Still, with a long level ;pound ahead of us, only one needed to get wet!

This canal was one of the earlier ones to be built and follows the contours wherever possible., As a result this section is very bendy and often it seems as if we have returned almost to the same point that we were ten  minutes ago! A lot of the bridges were built at the bends so it is inevitable that oncoming boats are met at a bridge and bend together!

After about an hour we arrived at the HS2 crossing. The substantial earthworks have continued although the pace seems to be glacial.

Around another corner and the main parts of the bridge are now in place and being used as a haul route for the contractors.

Another twenty minutes and we had the first glimpse (of many yet to come) of the Wormleighton mast, once a key part of the DCCA navigation system. At this point it was still raining but we began to see signs of blue sky in the distance.

Someone has spent some time carving this tree trunk with a rather garrulous bearded face. We do not recall seeing it in 2021 when we last passed this way.

For quite a long time the blue patch seemed to remain about a mile or two away, tempting is to believe in drier weather yet to come. However we eventually caught up with it although very soon we turned an almost 180 degree bend and headed back into the rain clouds! 

It was appropriately sunny once more as we passed under The Wedding Bridge. This particular structure was built in 2009, replacing an older one that had become dangerous. As we have probably said several times before, no-one seems to know why it has this name or even whether it was used for the earlier  bridge as well.

What we have not spotted before is that although the steps to the right of this picture lead onto a path up to the nearby farm, on the other side they seem to end abruptly in a hedge with seemingly no way to go.

Sunshine again!

We passed through Fenny Compton with almost all of the sort term mooring spaces occupied as usual.

Just to the south of the marina was once a tunnel but which was later opened out and the canal widened. A short section at the southern end remains narrow and olny one boat at a time can pass. We had a short wait for one boat to come through but fortunately no-one else followed on behind.

Sun was shining brightly on the Feeder Bridge but very dark clouds loomed behind. Boddington reservoir lies a couple of miles to the north west and is one of the supplies into this long pound.

We took a break just before the Claydon Locks to have our lunch. By the time we set off once more, the wind had turned very strong and steering into locks was not straight forward as it was blowing directly across our path.

Yet another shower on its way!

We are used to seeing grooves cut into the canal coping stones which are said to be the result of endless abrasion from ropes coated in grit from the towpath. However, these are on the off side with nowhere for a horse to approach so we cannot work out just how these came about. Anyone know?

After our experience in getting away from the downwind bank just after lunch, we tried to make sure that we did not repeat the exercise. Keeping away from the bank involved various strategies. On a couple of occasions we pointed the bow into offside reeds and held the boat steady, but at an angle across the canal, until the lock was ready to enter. This rather confused the crew if the only boat we met in the flight! They were worried that we were stuck and that they might be able to pass us.

Very shortly after leaving the bottom lock we came to a convenient stretch of piling for mooring - most of it was already occupied so we took the first bit we could!

10.1 Miles - 5 Locks