Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Banbury and Cropredy

It was a bright sunny morning, so much so that we awoke early. As a result we set off sooner than usual (for us!) even though we took our time. It was really quite warm to start with and the small fluffy clouds rarely obscured the sunshine. Alas, by the time we had a mid-morning mug of coffee the clouds had spread and it was not only overcast but distinctly colder.

Chisnell Lift Bridge
 Unlike on our journey southwards a couple of weeks ago, Chisnell Lift Bridge was open and so we did not have to stop - Mike had waited until Christine was ready to help before setting off as it was just a few minutes from our overnight mooring. These bridges are almost impossible to operate single-handed. OK, so it can be done but it's not nice!

Mike saw something in a field alongside the canal and from a distance wondered if it was some sort of old-style gyrocopter. Alas, it was merely an irrigation device!

At the waterways maintenance base just above Nell Bridge there were mainly piles of materials for the current fashion in bank repairs which are intended to create softer edges and to promote weed growth.

At the pig farm the thoroughbreds are about to be fed on out-of-date sliced bread - definitely looked like the sort that some of us would quickly turn our snouts up at, but not these creatures!

Kings Sutton Church
Kings Sutton and its ornate church steeple are just across the meadows from the lock but the village is really not accessible from the canal other than by a long walk from the bridges some distance to the north or south.

Samulesons Bridge
By 12:45 we arrived at the outskirts of Banbury and moored just before Samuelsons Bridge. We had lunch - Christine had brought some stock made from our most recent roast chicken at home and had made tasty soup during the morning.

The real reason for stopping here is because a large Morrisons store is very close to the bridge and so, before setting off we made a foray to pick up some items that we did not bring from home. It will be several days before we pass another place for shopping.

Foundry in Banbury
The casting works was very silent when we came down and we wondered if it had closed. However, today it was operating at full tilt so perhaps it was a holiday break last time.

After a brief stop below Banbury Lock to use the sani station we continued through the town - a statue outside the arts centre was made by a class of students with learning disability.

Little Bourton Lock
By now the sunshine had returned and the afternoon and early evening continued to be rather pleasant.

Slat Mill Lock
As we approached Slat Mill Lock we remarked that we could not recall anything distinctive about this lock, with no house and quite isolated. Slander too soon as we spotted a plaque recording the replacement of the gate

Slat Mill - New Gates
A couple of times today we spotted some very newly born chicks - these just below Cropredy. (The photo was snatched and poor quality but the chicks looked much better!)

Christine stopped off at the main bridge in the village to check that they will have a newspaper in the morning - yes they will and so we stopped at the first available mooring. Being Cropredy, always a popular place, we had to continue until opposite the new marina under construction.

The mobile connection is not very good here and pix may have to wait until later . . .

13.0 miles - 9 locks

Monday, 29 April 2013

Start of May Trip

We set off from Cornwall at 8:30 so that, even with a coffee break at Sedgemoor Service Station, we arrived at Lower Heyford a couple of minutes after 1 o'clock. The roads were relatively quiet and the only time we had to slow down was for three 50mph limits around road works. We had not stopped for coffee at Sedgemoor for a while - the coffee was a bit better than we remembered from a while back but the station as a whole is a bit sad and really needs a makeover. The shop is remarkably minimal compared with, say, Taunton Deane.

As we arrived, Nigel spoke to us about the work which he had carried out and some additional advice as well. It seems that all that we had hoped to be done has been completed - as usual David did not have an invoice for us so we shall have to see what the 'damage' is sometime later!

As we unloaded the car we also checked out the new facilities - fridge (properly wired in), oven, hob and radiator in the bathroom.

We made good progress with the unpacking so that we were able to cast off just after 3:30 but the first task was go go just under the bridge to the water point - the tank was very thirsty as the last time we filled up was back at Long Buckby (as far as we can remember!)

It had been a pleasant drive up and by the time we arrived the car temperature said 14C - a very pleasant change to the last trip. Although there was a stiff breeze, we were comfortably warm as we made our way back up the southern Oxford.

Spring flowers are now making a strong show and soon after setting off Christine spotted a pretty clump of kingcups.

Bridge below Allen's Lock

As he waited below Allen's Lock, Mike snapped another picture of the cheerful flowers.

Waiting Below Heyford Common Lock

It was good to be able to include some photos just for the blue skies and spring views - one here just before Somerton.

Approaching Somerton Meadow
There were several spaces at the moorings beside Somerton meadows - a bit surprising as in the past they have generally been rather busy.

Below Somerton Deep Lock
Somerton Deep Lock is one of the biggest rises on narrow canals, making the bottom gate rather heavy to operate. This stretch of the Oxford has, unusually, only a single gate at the bottom end of the locks. The view back across the fields was worth another picture - but the wind was quite strong which made mooring just after the lock more of a challenge than normal!

We have probably related this before but the cottage that at one time housed a lock keeper, is very isolated with no road access. A lovely spot but not very practical - in the window was a bunch of daffodils well passed their best. The house is clearly used but perhaps it is a holiday home.

Time now for a chicken and ham pie!

4.3 miles - 3 locks

Monday, 15 April 2013

End of Trip

We had only a short trip today - the only feature was the Mill Lane Lift Bridge. Made of aluminium (presumably as as experiment in alternatives to traditinal wood) it is especially flexible which makes it a bit harder to operate.

We arrived at Oxfordshire Narrowboats and proceeded to unload into the car ready for the homeward journey. It was pleasing to be greeted warmly by several of the staff that we knew from when we had our home mooring here until two years ago when we needed to be nearer to Windsor and so wintered at Packet Boat Marina instead.

Before leaving we had a session with David Dare to discuss several additional items of work which we would like them to undertake in the two weeks we are away, as well as the pre-booked blacking.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Lower Heyford

At last the promised sunshine had arrived and the air felt very much warmer. However, a strong wind blew for most of the day making navigation extremely tricky at times, especially when moving slowly or starting off from the edge of the bank. Nevertheless we were able to dispense with some layers of clothing and did not shut the rear cabin doors as neurotically as for the past couple of weeks.

Nell Bridge Lock
 A short run brought us to Nell Bridge Lock and then shortly afterwards to the diamond shaped Aynho Weir Lock. We have not been this way for a couple of years so it can be repeated that this shape enables more water to be sent down the canal from the river than the normal water level drop would allow. Water, for canal owners, was always a precious commodity and they used every artifice they could find to keep up their supply.

River Cherwell Weir
The River Cherwell crosses the canal just above the lock which means that the lock landing is some distance away from the top gate.

Aynho Weir Lock
The wind was blowing so hard that when Christine brought Mike a full mug of coffee it blew spray right out of the mug!

Passing under Chisnell Lift Bridge
Chisnell Lift Bridge was one of those that does need to be operated. Christine dropped Mike off on the towpath and then had great difficulty to persuading the boat to move back into the channel, the wind was so strong. After passing successfully through the bridge a boat moored just afterwards added to the complexity of setting off again.

Somerton Deep Lock
Somerton Deep Lock is one of the deeper locks on the system, certainly in the narrow lock sections. The lock cottage looks attractive but it is very isolated with not even a track to give access nor any mains water, sewer or electricity. There were signs of it being lived in still but they do have a small dinghy below the lock to help carry goods from the nearest road bridge.

Somerton Deep Lock Cottage
We moored for lunch above Allen's Lock and then set about some spring cleaning. Mike also re-varnished the dining table. After a couple of hours we felt that we ought to secure a mooring space for the night - we planned to visit The Bell in Lower Heyford and did not want too long a walk along the muddy towpath.

Upper Heyford Tithe Barn
The old Tithe Barn at Upper Heyford looked especially attractive in the rare sunshine but almost opposite runs the River Cherwell which seemed to be still rather high and running fast.

River Cherwell
We moored below the last lock before Lower Heyford so we only have a short distance to move in the morning.

There was no mobile signal where we moored so this blog had to wait until we returned home!

6.2 miles - 5 locks

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Nell Bridge

As there are no trains from Heyford Station on Sundays at the present, we made today the car shuffle day. It was a straightforward train journey for Mike back to West Drayton - changing only at Reading. He then walked to the marina, handed in the security key for the car park gates and then drove up the M40 to Lower Heyford.

He left the car there - only having the briefest of conversations with David Dare who was busy coping with broken pump out machinery - before catching a local train back to Banbury. He was back on the boat before 1 o'clock and time for lunch.

Christine spent the morning on a much-need spring clean of all the boat cupboards and was ready with a pile of items ready to throw out at the earliest opportunity.

Although the morning was definitely not the warm spring day that the forecasters had promised us for this weekend it had been a largely dry morning. However, as we made ready to set off real rain arrived and stayed with us all afternoon. It was also blowing a cold wind which made steering difficult in places. Most the route was straight into the direction of the wind and rain! As you will see, the rain made problems for the camera and there are only a few usable ones.

Immediately after setting off we passed through the lift bridge, one of the few that is regularly operated as it is a busy pedestrian route into the shopping centre.

Below the first lock we paused for the sani station and for Christine to dispose of the aforementioned items.

We soon left Banbury behind us and felt the full force of the rain blowing into our faces. There are also plenty of the lift bridges to pass under but the majority that remain - several were demolished before the heritage people took hold of them - look rarely if ever used by the adjoining landowners. The first one after Banbury was rocking alarmingly in the wind and Mike was relieved to see a very strong locking bar that prevented it from being lowered!

A little before Grant's lock we passed an Oxfordshire Narrowboat making ready to set off - Christine had seen them earlier in Banbury - and they followed us down to lock where another boat from the same hire base was just beginning to come up. There was quite a crowd!

The M40 crosses the canal a couple of times and on the second bridge there is a memorial to Paul Hill who was killed working on the construction of the motorway. A sad reminder that even in modern times such work can still be very dangerous.

We also were making much slower progress in most of the pounds below Banbury - something we remembered from past cruising this canal - we had been pleasantly surprised that on the stretch above Banbury from Napton we had made much better speed. As a result it was becoming clear that we would not make our planned destination of Somerton tonight - this was the only possible pace we could find for a church service tomorrow morning - so we pulled in early (just above Nell Bridge Lock) for an overnight stop at a spot that we recalled hotel boats using in the past. At least that meant that we had no difficulty in coming alongside this time!

4.8 miles -3 locks

Friday, 12 April 2013


The possibility of returning home on Monday, a day earlier than originally planned, so that Mike can go to a meeting he had forgotten about (or at least was not in the diary!) led to a slightly earlier start. If we make it to Banbury - which should not be a problem - then tomorrow can be the car shuffle day instead of Sunday or Monday as originally scheduled. Got that? There will be an exam later!

It was raining as we started but only intermittent showers marked most of the say. Generally a bit warmer, certainly not as cold as a week ago. It was, however, not a good day for taking photos.

Fenny Compton Marina
The first major point on today's run was Fenny Compton - well it was major in the days of working canals but less so now, although there is a small marina.

The Tunnel
Immediately after the wharf comes The Tunnel - a long straight cutting that owes its name to the fact that it was originally built as a tunnel but later opened out. Only a short section at the southern end is still as narrow as it would have been as a tunnel and it is not sensible for boats to pass at that point. There are not traffic lights and no rules about who gains priority and in busy times this can be a bit frustrating as a long line of boats refuses to give way. As it happened, after seeing few boats so far, one arrived at the other end of the narrows just as we started on it!

Turnover Bridge
The splendid cast iron turnover bridge marks the middle of the former tunnel.

A former railway bridge shows that sometimes the canals outlasted their upstart rivals!

The first of the lift bridges that are a feature of the southern Oxford Canal came into view - this, like most, is normally left open but it is a narrow gap to negotiate.

Claydon Top Lock
Claydon Top Lock marks the end of the summit pound and the start of our descent - if we followed the whole way we would eventually join the River Thames just outside Oxford. But we are only aiming to go as far as Lower Heyford.

On cold or wet days no doubt the original lock keepers would welcome the chance to warm up inside these small huts.

It may look as if this tree was beginning to break out into leaf or blossom but no. These are drops of rain that gathered on the otherwise bare branches.

Clattercote Wharf seems to have added to its collection of silent onlookers!

The last we heard was that the new Cropredy Marina were hoping to accept the first moorers now in July but with just a few lonely incomplete pontoons this seems a tad hopeful. There was nothing happening, no equipment or plant on site and the piles of excavated soil have started to show green as the grass and weeds poke through. The difficult winter weather must mean that they are very much behind even their revised schedule.

Christine walked from Cropredy Lock to call at the small shop close to the next bridge whilst Mike continued down to the wharf to start using the services. With no water stops for a couple of days it took a little longer than usual to fill up. We had then to crawl past a long line of permanently moored boats before we could stop for lunch.

The afternoon's run into Banbury was quite simple with just three more locks to pass through.

In many places the signs of the ancient strip cultivation furrows can still be seen despite many generations of farming since then, but occasionally where the canal cuts through it becomes obvious that they really did pre-date the canal. This photo also shows that the rain was getting onto the camera lens too frequently!

We were almost into Banbury when a heavier shower arrived and we were glad to be able to find a spot on the Castle Quay where we could tie up and dry out.

10.9 miles - 12 locks

Thursday, 11 April 2013


It was a mizzly sort of day - misty all through and sometimes so wet that it almost felt like rain. The temperature varies quite a bit but was still very much cooler than the trees and plants would like.

We set off as usual - there were more boats around, mainly hire boats from the various bases in the area. Kate Boats now have a base at Calcutt, it seems.

Napton Junction
Napton Junction - Wigrams Turn - came and went. We were now on the southern Oxford Canal. Originally the section between here and Braunston was part of the Oxford, linking the northern and southern sections. However, as part of the Grand Junction Canal, later Grand Union, it was incorporated into the much wider - and therefore faster - route from London to Birmingham. From here only not only are the locks narrow but speed over the ground will be significantly reduced.

At Brickyard Bridge 112, the house is still unused and boarded up but also one of the industrial sites on the opposite side is currently being demolished.

Napton Hill
Napton Hill is dominated by the old windmill which heralds the approach to the lock flight - our first narrow locks this trip. Today the windmill was partly in the mist.

At the bottom lock we met the first of three volunteer lock keepers on duty here. Two of them were being trained, this was their first day on duty. We met all three of them again at the top lock - guess they must have made it there by road as we did not see them walking ahead!

We were able to work these locks with Christine going ahead to set them and Mike following on having shut the top gate behind him. Although we did not see any other boats going up there was a steady stream coming down.

Alongside lock 10 is a hut that once would have provided shelter for the lock keeper that assisted boats through, important when time was money. a war-time defence block alongside is much less attractive but an equal reminder of important aspects of the canal's history.

At the top lock the three volunteers helped Christine with the lock and provided a chance for a chat! Time then to pull in to the bank and a country vegetable soup, hot off the stove!

It is a long pound from here to the top of the Claydon flight and we do not intend to complete it today. Towards the end of the afternoon a few patches of blue sky made a grave attempt to push through but the chilling wind was equally determined to make itself known.

Quite a few signs indicate the local landowner's views on the proposed HS2 high speed railway line!

Before too long the Wormleighton radio mast came into sight - it dogs the canal for quite a while as it follows the contours and almost doubles back on itself a couple of times. The mast originally provided the DECCA navigation system which was once very important for marine navigation. Not much help to canal navigators!

The Wedding Bridge
One day we will discover whose wedding led to this footbridge being re-built and why!

Wormleighton Medieval Village
The remains of the medieval village of Wormleighton can be seen in a field alongside the canal - almost a mile from the present day village that now bears the name.

Mooring proved a little tricky - the towpath edge is shallow in most places and the winding alignment of the canal means that there are fewer places that it is reasonable to pull in. After about three failed attempts we finally managed it!

as soon as we had completed the mooring rain arrived and was rather wet for a while, putting paid to Mike's intentions to sand down the table top - Christine insists that it be done outside!

13.5 miles - 9 locks