Thursday, 24 July 2014

No better countryside than this.

One of the most enchanting things about the Oxford Canal is it’s ‘countryside’ feel.

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Leaving lovely Thrupp at 9 o’ clock on Wednesday morning we were soon in the valley of the River Cherwell and the canal enters the river a short distance. Before entering the River Cherwell we had to encounter Shipton Weir Lock.  It’s eight sided (if you count the gates) and an absolute devil to keep the boat in one place as the water comes in.

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Our next bit of fun and games, after we’d got back on the canal proper, was coming across a wreck of an old BW working barge wedged between the bank and a moored boat.  Doug soon got things under control, hauled the wreck back to the tow path and tied it up using the bits of string that it been secured with originally.

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Right now the fields are ripe for the harvesting of corn and hay and the aromas are wonderful.  There’s ‘corn’ as far as the eye can see in some places.

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The old Manor House and lovely Tithe Barn at Upper Heyford look down on the canal from their high positions.

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After a bit of a bottle neck of Somerton Deep Lock which took an hour to get through we finally got to Aynho Wharf just in time for a major diesel refuelling before they closed.  New canal friends Andy and Rich on nb “Carpe Diem” had kept pace with us during the day and, after both boats had refuelled and found moorings at Aynho, a meal together at the Great Western Arms was the natural thing to do in the evening.

Today we started from the wharf at 8 o’ clock and were soon at Aynho Weir Lock.  Immediately after the lock the River Cherwell  crosses the canal …….. 

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……. and passes under this wonderful old brick causeway.  The wooden rails stop boats from being pinned to the causeway when the river is running fast – an experience we once had in our last boat!

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The canal passes under the M40 motorway three times in total and, thankfully most of these old lift bridges (and there are many) are left in this ‘up’ position otherwise our journey would be a lot slower.

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Kings Sutton Lock, at 10ft 8ins, is one of the deepest on the Oxford and, when the lock is full the view backwards off the boat provides a very atmospheric view.

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Further on is the town of Banbury which provides us boaters with a very welcome chance to do some shopping.  Getting provisions is not the easiest thing on this very rural Oxford Canal.  At the lock in the middle of the town there’s no shortage of onlookers when the weather’s fine. 

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More flora to be admired – this time huge clumps of Rose Bay Willow Herb …….

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…… and the canal banks themselves are brimming with colour at this time of year.

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After Slat Mill Lock and, hearing of a major holdup on the canal after Cropredy, we decided that calling things to an end for the day was the best thing.  Tomorrow we’ll hope things have improved ahead of us but for now it was a very welcome ‘champers and nibbles’ on the deck of “ Carpe Diem” with Andy and Rich before retiring to”Chance” for a risotto and a rest. Happy Days!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Bloggers Meeting at Thrupp!!!

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Yesterday (Tuesday) the day dawned with spectacular colours at Eynsham lock where we stayed overnight.  This was taken at 5 ish in the morning after which James went straight back to bed.

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Eynsham weir, of which this is just one section, was showing just a trickle of water indicating that the river flow is so low it’s virtually like a long lake.

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It took us about 45 minutes to get from Eynsham to the Oxford Canal via the Duke’s Cut.  This is Duke’s Lock, the first on the Oxford Canal and our first taste of real canal for quite some time.

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About 11:30 we reached Thrupp, the gorgeous little old hamlet of pretty little cottages on the canal side, and where we’d planned to meet up with ‘boaty’ friends, some who we hadn’t seen for over three years.  Here they are (Andy and Helen) arriving in style in nb “Wand’ring Bark” with their recent acquisition “The Jam Butty” Montgomery. 

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We had splendid lunch together at The Boat Inn which we’d managed to get a mooring right outside. Doug, James (pardon the expression!), Andy, Helen and Maffi.  We first briefly met Maffi on his boat “Milly M” back in 2007 just as we acquired our first boat “Spirit”.   He’s known by trillions of people and we have to thank him for arranging the booking of our table today. 

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Well, during the afternoon it wasn’t just the weather that hotted up.  Several more friends joined in for what turned our to be a very splendid and spontaneous afternoon and evening.  Maffi, Helen, Della, James, Rich, Andy 1, Andy 2 and Gary all aboard “Chance” for a bit of a ‘social’.

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All boats contributed sustenance for an evening buffet.  The food had to travel a bit as Della and Gary on “Muleless” (a sister MGM boat) were moored up at the top end, Helen and Andy with “The Jam Butty” were down at the far end with only Andy and Rich on “Carp Diem” next to ”Chance” whose Taff rail served beautifully as a buffet table.

P1050061 Andy and Helen’s “Jam Butty” is just what it says it is – Helen makes the most amazing variety of preserves and has a job to keep up with demand.

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The evening was a pleasure to say the least and made even more special by the company of Maffi’s lovely dog Molly.

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After the brilliant evening we all had it just remains for a final pic! 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Family get-together and a memorable weekend.

After our Saturday night mooring at Lechlade we were able to move up a bit nearer to the bridge and our destined place of eating for Sunday lunch.

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Trouble was, although the mooring was nearer the bridge, the gang plank had to be tested to it’s extreme! We could have moved up even further (due to all the other boats leaving when we arrived!) but it took so much time to get into this position no one was prepared to exert any more energy in such hot weather.

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Hixie didn’t much care what went on, she was happy in her own little world on the rear deck.

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With RAF Fairford and RAF Benson so close to us at Lechlade we were treated to a fly past by this enormous military aircraft.  Any one know what it is?

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Early Sunday afternoon saw a wonderful gathering of James’ family who still live locally to his birthplace.  Basking in the heat of the day outside the Riverside pub and waiting for lunch (clockwise) Vicky (daughter), Sophie (niece), Martin (brother), Doug, Robert (nephew), Sue (Martin’s partner), Frances (daughter) and her partner Kel.

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After hours of eating, drinking, fun and laughter “a few” of the younger family members came back to the boat for some further relaxation in the sunshine (and to beat the record for the number of people we can get on “Chance’s” rear deck!

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We took a very short cruise just beyond the bridge to wind “Chance” and to get our beloved family members closer to the car park.  James’ winding technique is being carefully scrutinised by all on board and the expressions tell all!  

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As it was only 6 o’ clock in the evening when everyone left we decided to get a few miles under our belt for the journey downstream.  On the side of Lechlade lock  the famous figure of Old Father Thames looks sternly down on us modern day boaters.

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We got to Kelmscot where we found a lovely peaceful mooring and where we could use our plank for the third night running. P1050017

Today (Monday) we continued our very relaxed journey downstream with the current in our favour for the first time since leaving Limehouse Basin in London.  Most of the locks are self service on week days on the Upper Thames and much easier to operated than double canal locks.

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As we sauntered on in further glorious sunshine, we had a very big surprise when the couple on a cruiser travelling the other way shouted “it’s Chance – it’s Chance!”.  It turned out to be Doug’s old primary school headmaster David Powell with his wife Gill.  They are also close friends of Doug’s family and the occasion definitely required a temporary mooring up ……….

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…….. and a glass or two of wine on board “Chance”.

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Waving goodbye to them we think Gill may have had more than just two glasses! (only joking Gill).  It was a fantastic and lovely surprise to see them both.

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Getting to Eynsham rather later than planned, and after a pump out of the toilet tank (some things just can’t wait), we breasted up with Geoff and Mags on nb “Seyella” who we’d arranged to meet up with this evening.

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Geoff and Mags had prepared a wonderful meal of cold meat and salad followed by strawberries and cream for us.  With that, and their wonderful company, we’ve had a great end to a serendipitous day.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Nostalgia at the End of the Thames.

There have been some happy memories for James this weekend as we head towards Lechlade and the end of the navigable River Thames.P1040884

On Friday leaving “Chance” in Oxford for the day we collected a hire car and travelled to Bristol to see a very dear and close friend in hospital.  We were on our way to see her when the car broke down a few weeks ago so this was our second attempt.  It’s always strange speeding down a motorway when you’ve been travelling at walking pace for so many weeks.

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Returning from a successful visit to Bristol where we found our friend making very good progress we collected daughter Frances and dog Hixie from her home and continued back to Oxford where, in the evening we had a visit from lovely friends Marcy and Phil.  We walked the 50 yards from the boat to ‘The Punter’ for a well deserved shandy and something to eat. Phil, Doug, Marcy, Frances and James quenching our thirsts.

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On Saturday we started at 9 o’ clock with the weather looking very dull compared to the last few days.  The Upper Thames gets very “tight” in places and quite unlike the vast areas of water it offers further down.

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Of course there’s always the exception! This is Port Meadow just outside the city and it’s a fantastic example of what a flood plain should look like.

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The early part of our journey was a bit moist but its something we really need to damp down the dust a bit.  Here’s James dressed for damp but very warm conditions – Hixie a lovely distraction and it’s great to have a dog aboard for a while.

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The character of the Upper Thames is enchanting – the bridges become very old (and small!) ……

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……… the locks get even prettier …….

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…….. and when the weather dried up it was time for fun and games in some of the “beach” areas the river has to offer.  We’re now getting to James’  childhood homeland where he also enjoyed many occasions such as this.

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We were treated to the most spectacular developing storm ahead of us.  It was astonishing to see such a huge natural phenomenon.

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We had a thunder storm both in front and behind us – it was the one behind which got in first with a very loud clap of thunder (Frances is startled by it just as James takes the photo!)

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Further on and we get our first sight of Faringdon Folly in the middle of the trees on the hill above the town.  Again, many happy memories for James.

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Radcot bridge (circa 1790) and the scene of much childhood diving from the parapet into the river!  It’s also one of the most amazing places to see the river trying to squeeze through when running at full flood.

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On the back water now, next to the “new” 1790 bridge, is the river’s oldest bridge from the 13th century.  The thunder storms are still baring down on us!

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We finally reached Lechlade and our last resting place before we start our journey back.  The sunset was lovely but the cows ate our prized orange mooring pin covers! So if your reading this Lady Esther we need some new ones!!!

We look forward to this afternoon when we hope to have a bit of a family get to together of James’ family.