Sunday, 31 August 2014

Lower Heyford

Today's canal - Oxford

We used the car which we parked overnight alongside the nearby lock to drive up into Heyford Park (the new fancy name for the re-development of the former air base of Upper Heyford) to find the Chapel where the joint benefice service was to be held.

Eventually, after having to ask for directions a couple of times, we found it. We were about 15 minutes early in the event but went in and found ourselves seats. Sadly the only word of Welcome we had was the one on the screen. There were around 35 people - a bit surprising since there are around seven churches in the benefice.

Back at the boat we set about out cleaning and packing tasks. As the boat is being left for painting we wanted to put away anything that might be damaged or get too dusty. Also it was time to take the curtains back home for a wash.

Late afternoon we had completed everything and moved the boat down the one lock to find a mooring within walking distance of The Bell in Lower Heyford. (We checked out the pub in Upper Heyford but were not persuaded - we have been to The Bell before.)  We had an enjoyable meal and drink before walking back to the boat.

Next morning we completed the short distance to the boatyard where we moored up and had a chance to talk to the staff who will be working on the boat and to clarify a few details.

Late morning we had loaded the car (even though Mike had to carry everything over the bridge!) and set off for the journey back to Cornwall.

1.7 miles - 1 lock

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Upper Heyford

Canal Today - Oxford

No rain today!

Still quite windy and, for a while chilly enough for Mike to add an extra layer.

We set off as usual with the first of today's series of locks not far ahead. This part of the Oxford canal, one of the earlier to be constructed, mostly has single locks whenever the navigators needed to change level. As a result, cruising is always a matter of, "How far is it to the next lock?"

There are still some wild flowers around although other plants are already beginning to prepare for autumn. (Pix taken as we cruised along - sorry!)

Dink and Malc's house - that's their picture on the wall (we presume) which is a well-known landmark at the start of Banbury. The coffee smells were also quite strong today, coming from the nearby factories.

Other boaters have several times recommended Sovereign Wharf as a re-fuelling stop but, as every other time we have passed this way, they were closed. Never seen them open so no wonder they can advertise a good price for diesel! Wouldn't want to arrive here on our last drop of diesel.

It was still only just after 10 o'clock so there was a surprising amount of free mooring. we had stopped last night short of Banbury, which had been our target, as we did not expect to arrive until 6 pm and usually it would be hard to find a space at that time.

Christine worked the hydraulic lift bridge by the shopping centre and then when to the shops for a few item whilst Mike took the boat down through the lock and started to fill up with water.

Beyond Banbury we were a little surprised to see that Haynes Lift Bridge 170 was closed - it has always been open before now and is not the best well-balanced! (OK, clever cloggs, this picture was taken after we passed through)

We saw another two ex-canal properties for sale today, with the same agent as the one at Claydon Top Lock. This one was just above Nell's Bridge and the other was at Kings Sutton Lock, once a favourite place to call for an ice cream, especially with a grand child aboard!

Just below Somerton Deep Lock there has long been a sign facing the railway line that almost touches the canal at this point. Every other time we have seen it it looked like something that had had no attention six the 1960's! However, someone has now made it much more up to date, although it may still have the same raised lettering.

We had intended to go to Lower Heyford Church in the morning but looking it up on the internet revealed that the only service in the benefice tomorrow is on the former air base above Upper Heyford (well know site in past decades when used by Us forces). As a result, we stopped just above Allen's Lock so that Mike could take a brisk walk to Lower Heyford to collect our car. He needed to get there before 17:30 as that is when they lock the compound overnight.

13.8 miles - 8 locks

Friday, 29 August 2014

Little Bourton

Canal Today - Oxford

A mixed day, weather-wise, but only a couple of very short light showers. The main feature, however, was the wind which consistently made steering more difficult but at least it was blowing us onto the towpath at each lock landing. Was this the remnant of another ex-hurricane?

Thinking that we had a little easier schedule today we did not set off until almost 10 o'clock - and also stopped for lunch! We set off on the long level cruise through Fenny Compton to eventually reach the top of the Claydon Flight, the start of the long descent of the Oxford Canal ultimately to reach the River Thames (Isis) at Oxford.

Footbridge 131A is inscribed Wedding Bridge MMIX but, despite searching on Google, this time and on various other occasions we have come this way, we have found no explanation for this title. Other bloggers have asked the same question without yielding an answer!

OK, so there was some sunshine this morning - just not a lot!

The mile after Fenny Compton is known as The Tunnel - it was originally built that way but subsequently opened out to reduce the delays. Some parts are little wider than a single boat and the rest is a tight squeeze to pass. Hence we were amazed to see that someone thought this a good place to moor!

As we approached Boundary Lift Bridge Mike could see it bouncing up and down in the wind, somewhat alarmingly. Fortunately he could see that it was well restrained by a locked chain so he would not have to test out John Slee's claim to be able to stop it falling on the boat.

The Claydon flight was busy - almost as busy as Napton was yesterday but at least all the locks take much the same time so that queues do not build up in the middle pounds. As we waited at the top lock, two other boats joined the queue.

Below the flight we stopped for lunch - not something on our agenda for the past few days! As we finished we looked through the hatch to see three visitors. Not sure what tufted variety these are?

Just above Varney's Lock is the old boat that caused us some delay when we left Cropredy a few weeks back when it sank across the top of the lock. Whilst it is still full of water it looks as if it is better restrained and resting on the bottom. Rumour is that it is waiting to be restored. Let's hope for everyone that it is successful - soon!

We did a 'splash-an'-dash' at Cropredy Wharf. Just a little later at the rural moorings, we spotted this cruiser. At least its owner has a sense of humour and knows what they have got! (If you are not a narrow boater you need to know that this is a reference to a term of abuse used about plastic boats! Sure that they have similar descriptions of us)

It was clear that continuing to Banbury was not sensible as moorings this late in the day are unlikely. As a result we pulled in below Little Bourton lock. Not an ideal stop - no tv signal likely, railway close by (don't mind that too much) but the motorway nearly a mile away is rather audible.

11.6 miles - 11 locks

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Ladder Bridge

Canals Today - Grand Union and Oxford

The day started bright, even though it had rained hard shortly before we awoke. The sky gradually clouded over and, as forecast, rain arrived around 2 o'clock. Surprisingly, however, by late afternoon sun returned and it was a beautiful evening.

We still needed to catch up on our schedule so we set off in good time. The next few locks are stretched out but then comes the short Bascote flight, including a two-lock staircase only to be followed by the long rise up through Stockton.

Since we came this way not so long ago, as well as fairly frequently in the past few years, Mike was uninspired with the camera - once the weather turned wet and the results would inevitably be mediocre!

At the first Long Itchington Lock, Christine popped to a nearby shop for a paper - fortunately there was just one left! We have been to this shop before - seems to be rather different part of the village from where we visited the church, coming at it from the other side.

As we arrived at Stockton Bottom Lock, a boat was just leaving to go to the next - Christine quickly nipped up and suggested that we shared. This was their first full day of boating but they were learning quickly! This helped us through quite quickly - although a boat coming down became quite agitated when they were asked not to draw our water from a lock in the middle of the flight. Another boat had just come down and emptied it. Just as we were completing the top lock, Mike tripped over he knows not what as he was stepping onto the boat roof and ended up flat on his face. Fortunately he does not seem to have done too much damage and at least he did not end up in the water!

After Stockton there is a longer level pound before the three locks at Calcutt. We came up the first two locks with another boat that arrived as we were waiting our turn after a boat down but then we wanted to call at the wharf for gas and fuel which we duly completed.

After this was when the rain really started! This photo of Napton Windmill is marked by rain not hazy sunshine!

Buffalo much closer this time
After a brief stop at the sani station below Napton Locks, we started up, helped by a couple of friendly volunteer lock keepers. The one at the second lock was having his work cut out as there was a long queue of boats wanting to come down - tomorrow is turn around day at several nearby hire bases. They were in danger of creating grid lock by pressing on down into the short pounds, making it almost impossible at times for boats to go up. The main delay is at Lock 10 in the middle of the flight. It received attention earlier in the year when it was closed for several days when one of the bottom abutments collapsed, but less well known is that only one bottom paddle is working. This means that this lock is very much slower to empty than those above.

Look - blue sky!

We had not noticed before, but at the top lock there is a business restoring old saloon cars.

With such a lovely evening, we decided to carry on until we caught up with our planned stop near Ladder Bridge, hoping that this late in the day there will still be space at a popular mooring spot. Christine steered whilst Mike prepared the evening meal and started on the blog.

Suddenly, Christine exclaimed, "Look, there's Seyella" - a fellow blogger. See  We managed to pull in and had a brief chat with Geoff. One of the coincidences is that Christine had discovered a little while back that Geoff started as a pupil at the school where she taught at the late Sixties not far from where we then lived in Loughborough. They only just failed to overlap!

We continued for another half hour and did indeed reach our target and there was space, although we stopped a 100m or so before the main moorings. The low sun was now in our eyes (not complaining, please understand) but it did look as if there were a number of boats moored ahead and we found a good piece of piling to moor against with a clear view for the TV!

16.8 miles - 28 locks

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Hatton, Cape and Fosse Locks

Canal Today - Grand Union

We awoke to find ourselves with a better day - well at least it was until lunch time! However, no rain all day. We had an hour and a half level run to begin with before facing the effort of Hatton once again.

Hatton Top Lock
As we arrived at the top lock a boat was just preparing to enter and we were allowed to join them. As result we made good progress and although most of them were set against us we completed the flight in just under three hours.

The steerer on our companion boat was amused by Mike taking photos - he suggested that he should take just one and then copy it for all of the others. Just so that you, dear reader, can spot the differences, he is the next lock down.

And another, just for the view!

The boat was built at Stowe Hill for a couple who were astronomers - hence the Herschel and the observations!

Just one more to go - by now the sky had clouded over.

We opted to continue on the short distance to the two Cape Locks before having lunch as after that there is a long gap before another lock. Alongside the top lock is the popular Cape of Good Hope pub.

We needed to buy a new gas bottle and top up our diesel before long but Kate Boats had a Closed sign and so we called in at Delta Marine a little further on. Despite their large sign that they sell both they told us that they had no diesel and were not falling over themselves to sell us gas either. They were keener to suggest that we should have stopped at Kate Boats! Just as well that neither is that urgent.

After passing through Warwick we stopped at Morrisons in Leamington Spa - we called here on the way out.

We were again heading out into the countryside and, before the next locks spotted a couple of very young chicks. Sorry about the photo but it was a snatch shot! let's hope that the parents were not too surprised by the late arrivals.

We arrived at Radford Bottom Lock just as another boat was ready to enter and we accompanied them up three locks but we let them go ahead at Fosse Wharf as we wanted to stop at the water point.

Shortly after working up the final Fosse Lock on our own we moored up for the night.

14.1 miles - 27 locks

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Canals Today - BCN, Digbeth Branch, Grand Union

A strenuous morning, a long day and probably a shorter blog! We have to make good progress today and tomorrow to make up for the lost half day yesterday. As a result, Mike went for a paper early and then took the boat around to the service point at Cambrian Wharf, the top of the Farmers Bridge flight of locks.

At first light rain was still with us but it gradually faded away and then it was dry for the rest of the day. However, the sky remained overcast and chilly, despite a promise of sunshine after 10 am in yesterday's weather forecast!

Five minutes before 9 we set off down the flight. The locks are close together and have the standard BCN design of a single bottom gate. This makes progress quicker when working through with just two crew. we quickly established a routine and pulled away from another boat that started down immediately after us, but with a much larger crew.

Later they started to catch up with us but we discovered that a volunteer lock keeper was helping them down. He did come and chat with us towards the bottom of the flight but apart from a couple of locks we had to set them ourselves - and they all needed filling.

The bridge below Lock 4 is called Saturday Bridge - a plaque gives a possible explanation.

Below the bridge we were rather concerned about a section of wall that looks as if it may fall at any time. We did talk to the lock keeper about it and he seemed to think that there have been discussions but it is not a CRT responsibility. Let's hope that someone fixes it before it causes a disaster. Collapsing walls are not nice, especially alongside a busy towpath.

The fancy footbridge, which looked great when installed, desperately now needs a good clean. It looks rather sad and neglected.

Lock 8 sports one of the art work installations which can be spotted across the canal system.

We arrived the bottom of the flight 1 hour and 20 minutes after starting - our target was 1 hour 45 minutes so we were rather pleased with ourselves!

Looking back the view has a combination of the old and new buildings.

After a short run to Aston Junction we turned right onto the Digbeth Branch and then at the start of the six Ashted Locks. Along this branch there was quite a bit of re-development, including a new huge block for Birmingham City University.

Ashted Tunnel we remembered from our last trip this way back in 2009 - our boat only just fits through and great care is needed to avoid scraping paint off the top side rail (which we did rather badly back then). The tunnel wall is not very straight as well. It may be that it was not intended to have a towpath through originally.

Below the flight we soon came to Warwick Bar which was originally the end of the Grand Union. A two-way stop lock is currently left open. Presumably its design allows for control of different levels either way.

Bordesley Junction is where another branch goes off to join the Birmingham and Fazeley at Salford Junction. We, however, were now going uphill, through the six Camp Hill locks. The bottom three are decidedly unloved and unattractive although things improve a bit nearer the top of the flight. No wonder the flight has a poor reputation.

A redundant railway bridge across the flight has been demolished but the Arches have still been retained. Wonder whether the original railway builders expected their viaducts to be used in this way?

So here we are at the top of Camp Hill, 25 locks and just four hours exactly! But now we have a long level pound of just over 10 miles to the Knowle Locks. we carried straight on and had lunch on the go in order to optimise our progress.

Several signs have been posted to warn of this sunken boat - just as well as it is around a sharp corner. Looks as if the last straw was a fire on board.

The industrial scenery gradually softened and gave way to tree-lined cuttings as we made out way out to the village of Catherine de Barnes.

One final challenge of the day was the flight of five broad locks at Knowle which we have found quite difficult in the past. However, as we arrived another bout was just entering the top lock and we were able to share. With a boat coming up we made good progress although having to fight the strong cross wind over the open intervening pounds. We completed the flight in half an hour!

Another long pound followed and we cruised for another hour to reach Kingswood Junction at 18:15, relieved to find plenty of space on the visitor moorings!

17.3 miles - 30 locks