Go to Allan's Page Our 2017 trip Canals Home Page 2018 Part 1 Go to Deb's Page

2018: Further changes of plan

 

Rainbow

A spectacular rainbow over Napton

 

As I mentioned in the previous page, we had arrived at Hillmorton where the boat had been booked in to Willow Ridge Boat-fitters to have some minor work done. The main element of this work was to make the solid-fuel stove in the lounge a little safer. Its fitting had complied with all the relevant safety standards back in 1991 when the boat was built, but the standards had been enhanced to reduce the associated risks. In particular the standards now require fireproof material to be installed behind the tiles around the stove, after it had been found that the usual tiles could transmit enough heat to damage - or even ignite - the woodwork behind them. Unfortunately after a week the boatyard reported that they were not willing to do the work because there was not enough room to allow them to comply with the very latest standards; even though these latest standards are merely guidelines rather than regulations and are anyway not retrospective so are applicable only to brand-new boats. They were not prepared to accept my instruction simply to make the existing installation as safe as possible, and to enhance the installation to be as near to the current standards as was practical; instead they declined to do any work at all, saying that the installation must stay in its current state no matter how unsafe that may be. They then even charged me for not doing the work!

Ironically while the boat was still at Hillmorton waiting for me to collect it, and with the stove still in its original installation, it passed its safety examination with no problems. Luckily Braunston Marina advised me that they would be able to do the work that I had originally requested, so the following week I moved the boat down to Braunston. They did everything that I had asked for around the stove, while commenting that the original installation had still been 100% sound with no sign of overheating on the plywood. Meanwhile I had made one small enhancement to the electrical system, by installing a couple of small solar panels which, although too small to satisfy our every needs, should ensure that during the summer the batteries would be fully charged even if we travelled only for a short distance on many days (provided that we did not moor underneath the trees for shade, of course).

 

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Very fine paintings on the wall at Fradley Junction
The glass in front of these buildings let me take a full-length 'boat-selfie'
Part way through the work to fit proper fire-proofing behind the stove
.The stove now can be used with greater confidence in its safety.

 

There were timing restrictions on the locks of the Oxford Canal, as there were on many canals, because after so little rain during this year's summer the reservoirs were now almost empty. Of course, as soon as we set off from Braunston there were several days of rain; not enough to affect the restrictions but enough to make us decide to light the newly-installed fire and wait for the weather to improve. After a couple of days we continued our journey southwards, intending to spend a week on the River Thames which at least would still have some water in it and would be delightful in the sunshine. A little way after Banbury the pound was extremely shallow; we managed to find an overnight mooring where we could get ashore without using the gang-plank (Jessop doesn't like the plank at all) but the following morning we were so well aground that it took me over an hour (and the wash from a passing boat) to get us moving again. From then onwards we had no problems with the water level, and the next evening we called in to visit our good friend Bones for the chance of a long natter to catch up on all the news. Jessop and her dog Boots are the best of friends and spent a lovely evening pretending to ignore each other.

We had used up one of our two bottles of gas so we called into the boatyard at Lower Heyford for another one, only to find that they had sold out. Then a few hours later we met the coal boat Victoria, and he had sold out as well; apparently the hot weather had caused such a demand for patio gas that Calor had nothing to spare for boaters. Luckily in the summer we don't use much gas (in cold weather our central-heating boiler uses it very quickly) but as boatyard after boatyard told us they had sold out we started to worry; in fact it would not be until we reached Reading a week later that we found anywhere to buy a new cylinder.

As we neared Oxford, we reconsidered our plan to spend a week on the river. You really can't see very much on just a week, and we decided that it would be better to spend a fortnight there; however the vagaries of the licensing system on the Thames mean that it costs no more to buy a month's licence than it does to buy two weeks, and so we made a revised plan to spend a month on the river instead. The weather had improved again by the time we reached Oxford, and we joined the river by Duke's Cut in beautiful sunshine. The lock was full of rowing skiffs, as apparently 25 of them were heading down the river for charity; there was only room for 4 of them to fit into the lock together, or two plus one narrow boat, so they were certainly keeping the lock keeper busy and I think he was quite pleased to take a break and sell us our licence.

 

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At Thrupp we found this wonderfully yarn-bombed wheelbarrow
Jessop likes to rearrange our bed so that he can sleep more comfortably
Kings Lock was full of skiffs.
Some boats use thick ropes on the Thames. It took a while to cut this piece off our propeller.

Jessop was utterly delighted to be back on the Thames, where there are beautiful fields in which he can run around and chase a ball, together with perfect river-banks for him to swim from. Unfortunately in Abingdon he cut his paw rather badly while chasing after his ball - possibly on a sharp stone when skidding to a halt - and we had to curtail both his running and his swimming activities. He did not understand this of course and kept begging to be allowed to enjoy his usual activities; we could let him run around gently but not chase his ball because his energetic twists and turns just opened up the cut again, and then he would stand miserably in front of me holding up a bleeding paw and expecting me to fix the problem. Also his swimming had to be curtailed because we did not want to risk him picking up an infection from the river. As a precaution we took him to the vet in Henley, who confirmed that there was no infection but the cut was extremely deep; stitching it up was to be regarded as a last resort because it would have to be done under general anaesthetic. Instead the vet supplied us with a protective boot for Jessop to wear so that he would not pick up grit and gravel when we were out walking, and recommended that he should not be allowed to run or swim for at least 3 weeks. Poor Jessop, not being allowed to play while we were on his favourite river, but at least his injury did not seem to be troubling him in any other way.

 

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The lock-keeper at Abingdon was getting married on the day that we passed through
I rather liked this sign at Abingdon Lock
Cliveden House overlooks a beautiful stretch of the river
This was the view across Cliveden Reach from the island where we moored

The sunshine was so hot  that every day we sought out a shady mooring for the afternoon, and one day in beautiful weather we moored on a little islands in the Cliveden reach, in view of the House. The island was about 200ft long and 30ft wide, and we had it all to ourselves; Jessop was clearly intrigued and puzzled as he kept finding water whichever way he turned. The river was extremely clean and we decided that it was probably safe to let Jessop swim in it, so we let him off his lead and he immediately set up a scientific experiment: he dropped his ball into the water and then jumped in to swim around the island and pick it up again. After a moment's consideration of the results of his experiment he now understood islands perfectly and was never confused by them again. We told him what a clever dog he was, as we carefully wiped his paw with an antiseptic pad.

We had intended to travel a short way down the river, and we were expecting a friend to join us for a few days, but problems at her work kept her away and so we carried on cruising to enjoy the blazing hot sunshine. It seemed no time at all before we found ourselves down at Windsor, where a nice shady mooring was available on the 'Baths Island' which in the 19th century was used as the town's leisure centre with public baths in the river (these facilities are now about a hundred yards away). We wandered into the town looking for somewhere good to eat and saw a signpost to the Eton Brewery, so of course we just had to investigate this and try their beer. I was a little disappointed to see that all their brewing vessels were all stainless steel; in fact there was nothing to see in the whole brew-house apart from a lot of stainless steel. They told me that they add flakes of wood and/or shavings of copper to the brew 'to make it authentic' but I was not convinced by this argument. I was however intrigued by the visiting mobile distillery (Still on the Move) that was parked in the brewery, and I returned the next morning so that I could take a couple of pictures and have a chat with its owners.

On our walk around the town, we spotted that it was Lobster Night at Brown's restaurant so we went back in the evening and had a fabulous meal there. While we were eating, the weather took a turn for the worse and as we ate we were able to watch people getting soaked as they hurried home in the rain. Fortunately the rain paused just long enough to allow us to walk back to the boat after our meal, and we lit the heating boiler for the night secure in the knowledge that at least we had a fresh bottle of gas available if we should need it.

As we headed back up the river we found that most of the locks were on Self-Service operation, as many of the assistant lock-keepers who were students had gone back to college. This was a little disappointing because we had particularly wanted to see the lock-keeper at Boulters Lock, where some amazing Angels Trumpet plants were being offered for sale; indeed after a night at Cookham (whose old cottages put the 'askew' into 'picturesque') we even turned back to Boulters the next morning, but again there was no keeper at the lock so we did not buy any plants. Sometimes the lack of a lock-keeper can cause big delays, and in particular we often had problems with cruiser owners who were not willing to share a lock - not even the huge Thames locks - with a steel narrow boat! Arriving at Caversham lock however, which did have a lock-keeper in attendance, we encountered a greater delay as the Police had closed the river at Caversham Bridge; it transpired that an unfortunate woman had ended her life by throwing herself off the bridge, a sad circumstance which made our own concerns with a half-day's delay seem rather trivial.

Once again we were able to stop at the wonderful Beetle and Wedge restaurant near Moulsford for the most amazing meal, moored with just a fraction of our length on their moorings and the remainder of the boat free to drift about on the river. The next night we moored again at Abingdon, so that the following morning after buying some more diesel we could go back downstream with a couple of friends and their friend who was visiting from Australia; we had a lovely picnic above Day's Lock before returning to Abingdon for a wonderful meal at the Bella Napoli Italian restaurant. Once again it was a cold night so again we lit the central-heating boiler and we were not surprised when the gas-bottle ran out overnight, but once again we found that the boatyard in Abingdon had sold out so after winding around for the 6th time in 2 days we headed up the river to Oxford.

 

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Still on the Move, a mobile gin distillery in a converted VW van
We would have liked to buy some of these but the lock keeper was not on duty
A Virgin balloon passed over the houses opposite us at Oxford
Bill Spectre attempts to transfer Debbire's thoughts to another participant in the Ghost Walk

In the middle of the moorings at Oxford there was a big gap, about 140ft long with a fisherman right in the middle of it. Not wanting to risk damaging his equipment, I suggested that he might like to consider moving by 2 or 3 feet while we came in to moor up. He flatly refused to move so I manoeuvred carefully into the space upstream of him, as far away as I could, and moored up with our stern about 3 feet away from him; he glared at me in stony silence until I went inside the boat, and then moved away by about 6 feet before carrying on fishing. We walked into Oxford and had lunch in the Four candles pub (next to Ronnie Barker's old school) before doing some shopping and then returning in the evening for "Bill Spectre's Ghost Trail", a very silly but highly enjoyable ramble around some of the supposedly haunted areas of the City. With Bill Spectre's superb acting and magical tricks it was definitely well worth the modest fee for an early evening's entertainment - and it gave us a superb appetite for an Indian meal on our way back to the boat!.

Debbie went back to the house for a night while I stayed in Oxford, and then we continued our journey upstream towards Lechlade. Above Eynsham, at Oxford Cruisers, we were able to buy a bottle of gas; they had plentiful supplies and seemed to be completely unaware of the shortages that people were experiencing further down the river. We had phoned ahead to the Tadpole at Troutbridge --- oops I mean the Trout at Tadpole Bridge --- to reserve ourselves a mooring for dinner; their sign said 'Reserved for Keeping Up with Johns' which I suppose was near enough. We had a very good meal but it was followed by a really rough night; a gale was blowing and even in the shelter of the mooring we were rocked around quite spectacularly; it was difficult to sleep with small twigs and branches continually clattering on the roof, and we woke to find that the moorings reservation sign had blown away completely. As we continued our journey I found it quite difficult to steer the boat around the twisting stretches of the Upper Thames in gale force winds which were reported to be gusting at 50mph around us, and occasionally I had to take quick action to avoid trees which had blown down part-way across the river, but we made it up to Lechlade with no major problems, and a couple of days later in seemingly even stronger gales we found our way back down the river to rejoin the canal. As we travelled up the canal, we were very aware of the change in the weather; a week ago we had been travelling shortened days because we were sweltering in the hot sunshine and looking for shady moorings, but now we were travelling shortened days because it was wet and windy with the temperature dropping almost to freezing overnight and we were making good use of our newly-refitted stove.

 

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These riverside tents looked most odd as we approached
We soon realised it was because they were all wearing top-hats
Nearby there was also this amazing floating hot-tub
Back on the canal, the buffalo were very much in evidence

We had been told that we should stop at the Pig Place above Nell Bridge Lock, so we moored opposite them overnight and then had the most wonderful breakfast there before continuing our journey; luckily it was a dry day, albeit rather chilly, because their eating area is outdoors. In no particular hurry we continued up the canal, dodging the showers and having no trouble with water levels this time, until we reached Braunston (where we called into the Marina to have a couple of minor adjustments made to their recent woodwork). Here we found a cheese boat, a beer boat, and even a Russian Doll boat; it's good to see a variety of trade on the canals, and we always try to support it when we can - but we really couldn't see any reason for buying another set of Russian dolls to go with the ones we actually bought in Russia!

 

Pig Place

The Pig Place near Aynho

 

We still had plenty of time to continue our journey back to King's Bromley, and decided  to take the long way round via Leicester and the River Soar. Our journey was uneventful as far as Foxton, but we really struggled for the next couple of days. At  the first wide lock we met a hire-boat crewed by a Canadian woman and her elderly father; she was reasonably competent but he was a distinct liability; for example as we opened the top paddles to fill the lock he insisted on opening the paddles at the bottom end ('to maintain the balance' he said) and would not be told otherwise, we actually had to physically hold him away from the bottom paddles. There was a boat waiting in the second lock; apparently he had moored in the short pound overnight so as to be certain of intercepting a boat to share the locks with, and he had been tipped out of bed as the pound had emptied overnight, which is why such mooring is strictly prohibited. He emphasised that as he was on his own he would be unable to do any of the lock work himself but would rely on the boat he was sharing with; we were very happy to 'donate' to him the hire-boat and its Canadian crew. We followed them for the rest of the day; they took an incredibly long time to get through each lock but we just relaxed and enjoyed the slow pace; then when they finally stopped at Kilby Bridge his crew appeared from inside the boat; they had remained hidden inside the boat because they were simply too lazy to do any work!

We hoped the next day would be easier as we set off early in the company of an old, converted working boat. For a while everything went extremely smoothly and we made good progress, but then we came to a short pound that was very low on water and our deep-draughted companion was clearly struggling; the next pound, which is a long one, was even lower and it was clear that they could not navigate it without help. There was just enough water in the short pound to enable us to flush them out of the lock, but then they became stuck and there was no more water available to fill the long pound without going a long way back for it. Knowing that it could take some time for CRT to respond to a call for help, we tried another tactic: the water was just deep enough to allow us to make slow progress so we attached a tow-line from our boat to his and as we came to each shallow obstruction I could use our propeller to send some water back to lift him over it. This tactic worked extremely well, so we travelled together to Leicester and beyond. Finally we made our way down the River Soar, turned left at the complex Trent Junction and reached our destination - King's Bromley Marina - just a few days later.

We took the boat out a few more times during the autumn then once again we headed for the beautiful, lonely Staffordshire countryside where, with a small tree on the foredeck and 600 lights twinkling on the roof, we spent another magical Christmas. Now, I wonder, is it worth making plans for our 2019 travels or shall we just set off and see where we end up ....  ???

 

 

Go to Allan's Page Our 2017 trip Canals Home Page 2018 Part 1 Go to Deb's Page

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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