Sunday, 22 August 2010

Oxford again

The morning began with a walk into Eynsham village where we attended the 10:45 Morning Worship service at the parish church. Just over 60 people of all ages were in the congregation and several people spoke to us before the start. Afterwards there was coffee but we did not stay over long as we still had to visit the Co-op for milk and bread before walking back to the boat.

After lunch we set off, not long after 1 o'clock and headed straight into Eynsham Lock, just past Swinford Bridge. We still do not know why they continue with collecting the tolls but perhaps Google may have the answer when there is a chance to ask.

Instead of returning via Dukes Cut - which is the way we came - we decided to go round the longer route via Sheepwash Channel and the middle of Oxford.

This meant two more locks - Kings Lock and Godstow Lock (with the remains of Godstow Abbey alongside)  before the wide reach alongside Port Meadow. At this time of year there is no sign of the flooding which occurs most winters.

We turned into Sheepwash Channel - no signs announce it or even indicate where it goes! after a few narrow bridges we arrived at Isis Lock and a return to the more familiar narrow locks and canal!

Surprisingly, the short term moorings close to the start of the canal were not all full which seems unusual for this time of year. Further up, several stretches are benefiting from the introduction of Conservation areas, meaning that wildlife adorns the water's edge and there are no moored boats. Elsewhere, boats cram into every available space - and sometimes more, making operation of the lift bridges a bit difficult.

Under the replaced A34 viaduct - from down here it is easier to see just how much had to be done whilst keeping the traffic moving overhead. No wonder it took so long!

The last lift bridge No 231, has an experimental lock on it. At least it has been re-balanced and can be easily operated from the towpath side without having to cross over and 'pull the chain'. It seems that not everyone is pleased with it as a passing local complained that they now have to buy a Watermate key for £5, just to navigate the canal - Oh, and that goes for the new mechanism at Thrupp as well! (No pleasing everyone all of the time! In case BW are reading this, we thought it a good idea, at least if it keeps as easy to operate as it is now)

We moored eventually just below Kidlington Green Lock - there are few mooring opportunities along here and even fewer with the possibility of TV . . .

(Later: now know that Swinford Bridge is privately owned and was last sold in December 2009 for just over £1 million. It is reported that up to 10,000 vehicles cross each day, but even so we still do not see how it is possible that it will pay for major long term repairs.)

Saturday, 21 August 2010


We set off just before nine o'clock, planning to arrive at Swinford Bridge for the night's mooring - we stayed here on the way up. This would allow us to go to Eynsham parish church for their morning worship tomorrow.

The first part of the day's cruise was, as expected, very bendy and with rather more traffic today (weekend!) it needed a careful lookout. We also had to share most of the locks with other boats. When some of them are non-ferrous (let the reader understand!) it can be a bit tense to make sure that we do not bump into them - steel ones: that's a different matter!

Rushy Lock has a topiary frog!

It was quite windy for most of the time which added to the navigational task, especially when blowing from the side to be moored against.

There was little to report different from the upstream journey - we did manage to take a photo of an intriguing pollarded tree, looking rather like some modern sculpture.

We had planned to stop for lunch but, as luck would have it, the lunch-time stretch was sans mooring spots so we just kept going, taking turns at eating!

We arrived at our planned destination in good time - mooring was not easy with a strong wind again. After tea and a reading session we opted to walk into Eynsham - a pretty village with several interesting looking shops - better than Lechlade, perhaps. The bridge is a toll bridge although the fee for a car is only 5p! From the middle of the bridge there is a good view of the lock.

Friday, 20 August 2010


The day began grey but not unpleasant but with a strong wind blowing. As a result it was almost as tricky to cast off from our mooring as it was to arrive! Mike found that the boat was almost blown too far from the bank to jump by the time he had pulled out the mooring spike - but he made it just in time!

Almost immediately we passed a sign warning about a narrow bridge ahead. Since at that point, the only bridge visible is the wooden one, it seemed as if it also ought to have a height warning as well! In fact, a little further around the corner it is Radcot Bridge which is the culprit!

The next stretch of the river is as bendy as much was yesterday with several near 180 degree turns. Not long after setting off we arrived at the first lock of the day: Grafton Lock. As we approached, two boats left the lock with both gates open, paddles open and no keeper in sight but with the sign on Self Service. we entered the lock and began to operate it when the lock keeper arrived. It seems that he had not seen us and so went over to the weir to check it, intending to finish off closing the gates on his return. We beat him to it!

It was three miles to the next lock. Christine was steering at the time we neared Buscot Lock - the entrance channel is a sharp turn off the main line of the river with an almost hidden lock! She was all the more pleased at getting around the sharp bends without any problems when, on our return journey, a boat coming up which we had met several times yesterday had misjudged the turn and run aground!

From Buscot Lock, the tall, slender spire of Lechlade Church starts to make an appearance. Shortly before the town we passed through St John's Lock, the highest lock on the river.

There was plenty of mooring space at Lechlade Bridge but the strong wind made mooring rather difficult. Christine was able to jump ashore with a line but could not hold the boat in against the wind, which was blowing straight against the side of the boat. Mike managed to manoeuvre the boat almost at right angles to the bank where it remained steady long enough for him to put a mooring pin into the ground to secure the bow, jump back on board and then use the engine to bring the stern alongside!

We went shopping in the town - no more exciting than when we visited here Easter last year. It seems surprising that the few small shops are able to satisfy the supermarket hunger of local residents, although we did find a butcher and a good Londis local store. We stocked up with what we were looking for anyway.

We had bought a couple of specialist loaves of bread and set about demolishing the sun dried tomato flavoured one for lunch.

Around half past two we set off once more to complete the short section up to Inglesham and the Round House where we winded began the down stream trip. As we were turning around rain started to fall quite heavily and remained with us until we arrived at St John's Lock. After descending the lock we used the disposal facilities. BY now the rain had abated although clouds and wind remained. The statue of Old Father Thames was originally made for the Christal palace Exhibition and for some time was located at the head of the Thames but is now more readily seen at this popular lock. On the opposite side are also some model cottages.

However, by the time we arrived at Buscot Lock the rain returned with a vengeance and was clearly set in for the rest of the day. We decided to look for the first available mooring but, as is always the case, it was half an hour before anything turned up, but it did have reasonable depth of water and was on the side of the river that the wind was blowing us onto so that mooring was not as difficult as last night - just wet!

Thursday, 19 August 2010


The day was generally quite pleasant, although rarely more than just comfortably warm. It was not far before we arrived at Pinkhill Lock, the first of the day. As usual, it was manned and so we just had to keep the boat in place with our ropes. No wonder those who normally only cruise the River Thames are astonished when it comes to 'normal' canals!

Almost all of the route today was very windy, almost all bends which sometimes are quite demanding, approaching a full 180 degree turn in places. With boats coming the other way, it is necessary to keep a good watch as it is sometimes necessary to position the boat differently to avoid another coming around a difficult bend.

Last year when we came through Northmoor Lock we chatted to the lock keeper who was expecting a visit that day from senior managers from the Environment Agency who were bent on removing the historic weir which takes quite a bit of manual effort to operate to control water levels, especially in floods. So we were interested to see what had happened and at once saw that nothing had changed. The lock keeper told us that the plan was to go ahead and contractors arrived on site to unload their equipment together with signs to tell local people that the access road was to be closed. It seems that EA had failed to consult local people and immediate objections meant that the work was put on hold. Now there is an action group from villagers which is determined to ensure that the historic features are retained. Whilst it is clear that cost reductions are leading waterway managers (BW as much as EA) to replace human effort with automated equipment, it would be a shame people in the future could not see how these unusual weir/sluices operated in days before locks.

In places the river is now quite narrow - overhanging trees can sometimes reduce the navigable width to a single boat.

Half an hour after after Northmoor Lock we spotted a concrete and piling edge - just long enough for one narrow boat - that we over-nighted at last year - so we opted to stop early for lunch as there were not many mooring expected in the next section. as it happened we stopped for a long lunch break, setting off again just after 1.30, an hour and a half later!

The lock keeper's houses - Shifford dates back to the end of the nineteenth century - often add much to attractive scenery.

Bridges on this part of the river are few and well apart but usually are quite interesting. The road bridges retain an historic appearance although some of the foot bridges were replaced at some stage by concrete structures.

The last lock of the day - Radcot Lock - was on Self Service. Two boats were already in the lock, going up, but seemed not comfortable with doing things on their own. Christine had to lend a hand - they even left the lock without closing either the paddles or the gates.

Alongside the lock are two huge topiary faces - no doubt the lock keepers have times in the year with not too much to do!

Shortly before Radcot Bridge we decided to look for a mooring spot for the night - it proved rather more difficult, especially as quite a strong wind was blowing and we found ourselves stuck on shallows in the first two attempts. Thanks to advice from some campers on the opposite bank we eventually found enough depth to come alongside.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Thames - Eynsham

We were off in good time - just after 9 o'clock.

Although the route is reasonably familiar to us now, it is always in change - even after 10 days the weed-narrowed section seemed even narrower! It was a rather overcast morning, extra layers of clothing seemed necessary.

Before long we passed Kirtlington Quarry - scene of last week's BBQ etc - onto the River Cherwell and off again, and then on down to Thrupp. We stopped only to dispose of rubbish and empty the elsan but had a quick chat with Heron, the Tom Rolt Cruise boat which moors alongside us at Lower Heyford.

The new hydraulic operation of the lift bridge at Thrupp seems to be working well, despite some misgivings by local boaters! A little further on we moored at Gunpowder Wharf in order to go to the Co-op local shop for some supplies including a paper and bread for lunch. The builder's merchant, however, did not yield the brass hook for the rear doors so that repair will have to wait even longer.

By now Christine was suffering from banging her head on the rear hatch and opted for extra sleep. Mike set off slowly but was quite fortunate at the locks. By the time we reached Kidlington Christine emerged a feeling a little improved but still a bit queasy. Again we were lucky at the lift bridge as we arrived just as another boat had opened it and let us through!

After Duke's Lock we turned onto Duke's Cut and the shallow stop lock. As we worked through the locks, rain returned and for a while was very heavy, so we sheltered in Duke's Cut lock under a railway bridge until the worst was over.

By the time we were on the Thames proper sunshine returned and the cruise upstream was delightful. We looked at the spot where we moored last year but decided to see what we could find below the lock. Alas, the two spaces were already taken so we passed through Eynsham Lock - the Summer Assistant Keeper was still on duty to pen us through and advise us on possible mooring just a short distance beyond the road bridge.

Indeed, although there were several boats already moored up we did find an eminently suitable spot. At least, unlike below the lock, the satellite TV signal was available. Pity that there is nothing exciting on tonight. Time then for Mike to start preparing the roast vegetables for the evening meal.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Off once more

We had quite a busy morning, with Mike having a PCC Standing Committee meeting as well as several other last minute matters to attend to - including sorting out contact lenses. However, we were off before lunch and called at both Homebase and Asda Filling Station in Bodmin before really being on the road.

Leaving there just a couple of minutes before 1 pm, we had an excellent journey up to Lower Heyford, with traffic levels sufficiently low to allow cruise control for all but a couple of short sections right up to the turn off from the M5. We has a short comfort break at Michael Wood Services and arrived at Lower Heyford before 5 o'clock.

David was away but we were able to establish that the tiller repairs had been completed - although Mike soon discovered that the stop tap on the water tank was still missing. However, a quick application of Blu Tack meant that we could avoid the problems of air ingestion that we had encountered last weekend.

Not in the blog, but we did have a short trip last weekend to take the three girls down to Kirtlington Quarry for a lunch time BBQ and campfire, with an outdoor evening meal with Joanna and Adrian as well. Andrew, on way to Worcester Beer and Cider Festival, helped out and stayed overnight. We returned on our own to base the next morning.

Back to today: we managed to fill the fuel tank before the boatyard closed at 5:30 and then also took on water. Unloading the car did not take very long as we only had immediate supplies to bring with us.

We set off soon after six o'clock with black clouds overhead. (It rained very heavily so we waited until the worst was over)

Although the rain abated it was back again by the time we arrived at Dashwood Lock - Mike did most of the lock work, but Christine emerged in time to take the boat out of the lock at the end. Shortly afterwards we opted for a good mooring even if there was no chance of TV signal and most of the mobile phones failed to respond! (Vodafone did work, however!)