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Our first year with Thistle

Hawkesbury to Leighton Buzzard, plus the River Thames and Oxford Canal

Buying a boat

We needed to sell our house and get a smaller one before buying a boat.

Moving house went "find a house, find a buyer, lose the house, find another house, lose the buyer, lose the house, find another buyer, find another house" ... and so on, umpteen times. At each stage everybody helps themselves to your bank account: solicitor, bank, estate agent, land registry, local authority, surveyor, mortgage consultant. After 6 months it drives you crazy.

Buying the boat went "ask some people, find a boat, talk to the owner at the pub, agree the price, come back a week later after talking to a few people who knew the boat, pay the money and take the boat". Much better!

Cruising home

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Thistle on the day we bought her in 1987. Distinctive high bow plus rather over-large cratch.
Thistle on the day we bought her. We loved the cruiser stern and replicated it on our next boat.

The first thing we had to do was go backwards through the lock, that and the way we all kept shouting "Mayday" (for that was the date) set the scene for a hysterical first trip. Next morning the previous owners showed us how to clean out the flue of the gas fridge (it needed this twice a day until we got a new gas jet) and how to make the fire drive the central heating. The fire consumed HUGE quantities of wood, so gathering wood was our major task every day until we had a decent stock of it.

The weather for our maiden voyage from Hawkesbury to Leighton Buzzard was dreadful but we hardly noticed. We stopped in a cutting for a while; it was poring with rain but the wind was so strong that it was totally dry in the cutting, and we could see the water lashing past above us and across the end of the cutting. When it calmed down a bit we carried on to Braunston and sett he kids to work collecting wood and feeding the ducks.

Next morning I set off and realised I'd forgotten to put the tiller on. A lesson soon learned, I thought, I won't make that mistake again. Nearly 20 years on, I still forget it most mornings.

The following morning our good friends Ken and Pauline joined us at Weedon, carrying a mountain of food, and crewed for the day. Their children and ours had a fabulous time together, and a grand time was had by all. We reached Leighton Buzzard the next day, and moored Thistle at Wyvern Shipping Company where Debbie worked.

 

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Fenny Compton 'Tunnel' on the South Oxford
Fenny Compton 'Tunnel' on the South Oxford
The aptly-named Somerton Deep Lock
Isis Lock (note our Thistle)

Down to the Thames

After a couple of months frantic activity and a couple of weekend trips, Thistle was in better shape. With new batteries most of the electrics worked at least some of the time, the water system didn't leak too much, and we were fairly comfortable as we set off for a proving trip to Lechlade and back. For once we travelled the South Oxford canal at a sensible pace, taking time to enjoy the wonderful scenery. On morning I found a sheep tangled up in a hawthorn hedge; Debbie completely misunderstood my intentions when I fetched the hand-Axe and carving knife from the boat to cut away the branches and wool.

The countryside was beautiful and remote, and by the time we reached Banbury we were getting to grips with Thistle's unusual handling characteristics (caused mainly by her lengthening not having been done quite straight). Banbury hadn't yet been redeveloped; we spent the night at the Social Club where boaters were made very welcome and beer was only 65p a pint with a free sandwich..

Soon we reached Isis Lock and set off up the Thames. After the slowness of the canal, our speed on the river seemed dizzyingly fast. The first lock-keeper was most indignant that we didn't have the name of the boat painted on the side (the repaint was only partly completed) and wouldn't let us proceed even though we pointed out that we did have a thistle growing in a flowerpot on the roof, so the children spent a happy half-hour with their crayons making us a name-board.

A couple of days later we reached Lechlade. This part of the Thames is wonderful, and what a luxury to have the locks done for you. The moorings for the Trout at Lechlade are up the weir stream, and after an impossible manoeuvre with our bows almost under the weir we were safely tied up on ALL their moorings. We failed to catch any fish with a bent pin and a stick so just had to go in and eat at the pub; delicious!

 

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Moored at the Trout in Lechlade
Winding above Lechlade
Breasted up with Ophelia the punt
Back on the Oxford Canal again

After winding the next day up at the Round House we set off downstream. At Tadpole we met a man in a punt. dressed in all the gear (striped blazer, straw hat, etc) who asked if we could give him a lift. He had just punted from London to Lechlade for charity, and now he was on his way back. The punt Ophelia was simply magnificent. Built around 1920 from Mahogany and brass, with beautiful paintings of Ophelia on the thwarts, she still had her original mahogany toolbox containing a spirit stove, brass kettle and teapot. We strapped her on the side and took her all the way to Oxford, with a hilarious stop for half an hour while we all learned how difficult punting can be.

Back on the canal we met some more friends and made our way back to Braunston where our friend JonO at UCC had promised to take a look at the engine. After poking it, sniffing it, and burning himself on it, he pronounced a series of faults that could all be easily fixed to turn our SR2 back into a healthy SR3. So we let him fix the faults, black our bottom, replace our weed hatch (it had rusted almost completely through), and fit us with new anodes and a silencer. What a difference it all made; for the rest of the year we travelled around happily except when it rained and we got wet inside.

Now read on, about our second year with Thistle ...

 

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Go to Allan's Page The History of Thistle Canals Home Page Thistle 1988 Go to Deb's Page

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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