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Summer 2003 trip to the Thames and the Trent

We hadn't travelled on Keeping Up nearly enough for a couple of years. Most of the time I was to busy at work, and we'd had a couple of other holidays too (notably cruises to Alaska and the Antarctic), then a friend had suddenly become homeless so she'd been living on board for a few months. Suddenly it all changed; after an argument with my boss I found myself redundant and jobless. Quickly evicting our live-aboard friend, just 3 days after officially finishing work we were on board and setting off on our travels, with no particular destination and no fixed timescale.

It felt like Heaven to have time to stop whenever and wherever we fancied. We visited the museum at Stoke Bruerne again after a 10-year gap, and we stayed for a few days at Braunston taking the time to enjoy the village. In blazing sunshine we travelled slowly down the South Oxford canal, seeking a shady tree to moor under by lunchtime, to have a barbeque and some wine before sleeping the hot afternoon away, then continuing for an hour or two in the evening. It was positively idyllic.

 

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New wire statue at Stoke Bruerne
Sunset at Weedon
Retrieving a dropped windlass with the Sea-Searcher
The windlass was successfully retrieved
Lift bridge on the South Oxford

We had a long walk into Claydon, hoping to buy a Sunday newspaper or a loaf of bread. The person on the towpath who told us there was a village shop was several years out of date - but we didn't care, we'd enjoyed the walk anyway. We did manage to buy a Sunday paper in Cropredy, minus its back page. The thermometer on the outside of the hull was reading 48 degrees C so we didn't travel any further that afternoon. Met a friendly couple off "Shropshire Lad" at Aynho and the beer flowed rather freely so we made a late start the next day.

It was lovely to get out on to the Thames in the sunshine (32 degrees in the shade, the hottest day of the year). As we made our way upstream there was a terrific thunderstorm to greet our arrival at Lechlade, and the moorings were very busy so we breasted outside another boat. We stayed at Lechlade for 3 days, then all the aircraft started to arrive for the Fairford air show. We were right on the flight path, so they all came overhead, and we saw them all again during each day's show while we listened to the commentary on the air-display radio. The Stealth bomber may have been almost invisible, but Oh it was noisy as it thundered over us at just 200 feet. The Red Arrows were of course brilliant, and the Italian Air Display team were just amazing almost suicidally so!). And "Shropshire Lad" appeared again, so a few more drinks were consumed; they even left us with a bottle of "Shropshire Lad" ale when they went.

 

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Passenger on the kitchen window
Stealth Bomber and escort
Stealth Bomber
The Red Arrows

Down to Maidenhead (not impressed with the town at all) and back again, we spent a wonderful few days in Abingdon (good moorings, pretty town, good shops, plenty of pubs and restaurants) before leaving the river when our 15-day pass ran out.

Up the Oxford canal to lower Heyford, and the dogs decided to take themselves for a walk. Molly found a nice family to take her in and feed her; they lived several miles away from the canal but we got a phone call from them about 4 hours after she'd gone missing. Telford unfortunately was too frightened to go with them, so he was missing for 12 hours until he found his way back to the canal. Thanks to all the people who helped us search for him! From then on we weren't letting them off the lead again until they'd learned how to behave.

So we pottered on to Braunston and we really didn't want to go home yet so we turned left and went up to Rugby instead. Soon we found ourselves up the Ashby canal; it seems deeper and better maintained than when we were last there. We turned round, came back to the Lime Kilns (the sign had a letter missing, it read "Lime Kils". Maybe that's a new Government Health Warning, and were joined by some friends for a few days. We were also joined by an exhausted racing pigeon near Fradley (see photo below). I think it was severely dehydrated for it refused all our offers of food but when we gave it a mug-full of water it drank nearly an inch of water straight away, then went to sleep for an hour before suddenly waking up and flying away.

So we carried on down the T&M canal and stopped for a few days in Nottingham before carrying on down the Trent to Newark. We spent a wonderful night at our favourite mooring at Hazelford Lock (it's an island so we could let the dogs have a good run without them getting lost). At first when we moored we noticed that a couple of swallows were getting very agitated; we moved a few feet so they could get back to their babies in the nest they'd made at the head of the piling (see photo below), and then all were happy.

The new marina at Newark was great (visitors moorings were free for up to 48 hours then, but I'm told they charge now) and we had a very nice couple of days in the town before returning to Nottingham for a few days.

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Passenger on the roof
Baby swallows
The Leicester swamp-monster
You're never too young to learn ...

We decided to travel up the Soar, and before long we reached Leicester. We hadn't meant to stop, but just before noon we were halted at North bridge; we were told there would be a delay for an hour or so as there was a diver inspecting the brickwork under the bridge. What a good excuse to go into the North Bridge Tavern for a good meal and a pint.

When we came out the diving control said it would be another hour or so as he was waiting for the water to clear. Clear? On the canal in Leicester? An hour later we were still being told it would be another hour or so and we realised that they had no intention of completing their work that afternoon so we phoned BW to ask how long the stoppage was scheduled for. "Stoppage, what stoppage?" they asked. Soon BW were in contact with the Council official who had hired the diving team to inspect the bridge in connection with the road works going on above the bridge, educating him in no uncertain terms about the correct procedure he should have followed. They quickly withdrew the diver and let the queue of boats pass.

Everywhere we went, we saw kingfishers. These beautiful birds are my favourites, and I've never seen so many as this year. It's my ambition to get a good picture of one, but so far they've always eluded me. And at Welford there's a young heron that crash-landed in the dry-dock one day, and found that the sump always has fish in it so he won't go away!

We got home at the end of August after 640 miles and 300 locks, thoroughly relaxed. Getting made redundant was the best thing I'd ever done.

 

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