Thursday, 29 September 2011

Oxford Canal. Pigeon Lock to Shipton Weir.

While we were at Pigeon lock we got on with hand rail preparation and undercoating, and we scraped all the tatty looking non-slip coating off the gunwale on the towpath side. We also drove about 1,000 miles in the car.

On a whistle-stop tour of England we first went to Lincolnshire for a party, collected some willow from our old house and got back to the boat at 4am. 5 hours later we went to Mum & Dad’s for their wedding anniversary. The next day we drove to Brize Norton to meet Chloe who was coming back from Afghanistan and take her to Frankie’s. That night we all stayed at Frankie’s house, Chloe left for Birmingham in the morning and we went to Karen’s to do some work on her car. After tea we came home again, but not for long. Our next excursion was to Chesterfield for a doctor’s appointment. (We’re registered there as it’s where our postal address is) Dave is diabetic and we needed to get him back into the system of regular blood tests and check-ups. The doctor was very obliging and booked him in the very next day. In the afternoon we went over to Buxton to see Wiltz & Annie who very kindly put us up overnight so we didn’t have to drive back again. We finally got back to the boat on Thursday night.

On Friday we got up late and didn’t go anywhere all day.

On Saturday we had to go to Southam for a dentist appointment; there was a 50’s “retro” celebration on in the town, so we rang Kim and Luke and they met us there. It was well attended with lots of cars and bikes to look at and we had a good time. In the afternoon they came back to the boat for tea and the inevitable sleep over and on Sunday we crossed the canal and had a walk through Kirtlington Quarry Nature Reserve
followed by a visit to the fabulous “Jane’s Teas” for a slice of home-made cake and a pot of tea on a sofa in the trees overlooking the canal.
It’s the most bizarre, eccentric, wonderful cafĂ© in the world, and so, so English.
Sadly it only opens on Sundays, and next Sunday is the last one this year, but next summer, if you want a really jolly afternoon in the Cotswolds, go to Kirtlington, just north of Oxford, stand on the village green, turn round three times and click your heels together. Then go down Mill lane.

We’d got a growing list of noisy jobs to do; chain-sawing, sanding, drunken singing etc. and Pigeon Lock is near some houses, so after much discussion and changing our minds several times, we finally decided that the best plan would be thus: First thing Wednesday – go to Thrupp, wash out, fill up, turn round. Come back to Shipton weir and moor just by the lock. Do all the noisy stuff on one side, go through the lock, turn round in the river, come back through the lock and do all the noisy stuff on the other side. That should take the best part of a fortnight, and we should have stripped both gunwales back to bare steel, given them 5 coats, and have a red border round where the panels are going to be. In other words, all the red bits will be finished just before the weather makes painting impossible. We know it seems like a backwards way of going about things, doing all the fiddly bits first, but the idea is that the red bits – hand rails, borders & gunwales - all get a rough painted edge, then, when we come to painting the main panels and the roof next year, we simply mask off the red bits (which by then will be totally cured) and do a quick, shiny job without any fiddly stuff.

The first part almost went to plan, the only snag was that the last week in September has been so glorious that in the afternoon the side facing the sun got too hot to touch, let alone paint.

Here are some pictures of an idyllic autumn day boating on the Oxford.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Oxford Canal. Upper Heyford to Pigeon Lock.

As we continue our journey south towards Thrupp, where we’ll be turning round, we can fully understand why so many people count the South Oxford Canal as one of their favourites. Although it is fairly busy with several hire bases nearby, and boats from the Thames, Kennet & Avon and other southern waterways going north and back home again, it still manages to be quiet, peaceful and far, far from the madding crowds. It feels like a well-kept secret; we’re in the middle of commuter-belt Cotswolds country where you can’t move for barn conversion architects, jig-saw photographers and artisan thatchers and you never get much change from a small fortune, and here we are with our little house, picking blackberries. It’s idyllic, if a bit surreal.
We did the bit from Upper Heyford to Lower Heyford twice; the first time with Wiltz, Annie, Kim & Luke, when we turned round and came back, and the second time on our own when we kept going to Pigeon Lock which is where we are now.

We’ve finally got some gloss on the bow. We went to see John & Jaq’s boat in dry dock at Braunston; they're re-painting it, blacking it and having new sign-writing. All in 11 days!
We came home inspired. The next day Dave set to with masking tape
and by the afternoon he had two coats of super shiny black paint on the front end.
Next on the painting front are the hand-rails. Ann-Marie has started stripping them back to bare metal
after which they’ll get some Red Oxide, 2 undercoats and 2 coats of red gloss. At the same time we’re going to paint the 1” red border round the sides.

There’ve been quite a few trees blown down recently. When that happens the B.W. contractors turn up with chain-saws, clear the canal and the towpath and leave all the wood in a heap for boaters to take away. It’s mostly willow, which burns quick, but it’s free, splits easy, dries out fast and there’s plenty of it. We’ve emptied out one of the front lockers and filled it with the seasoned logs that we’ve been collecting on our travels
all the new stuff is going on the rack on the roof.

We began this blog without any idea if the journey we hoped were setting out on was even going to start. "Dave & Ann-Marie’s Transition from Bricks and Mortar to Life on a Narrowboat" not only started, but has been a fantastic, round the world roller-coaster adventure. So is it over? Well we’ve “Transitioned” (or whatever the past tense is) from house to boat, but the roller coaster is still trundling along the track with no end in sight. True, it’s going a lot slower these days and there is time to smell the roses, stuff a mushroom, or make a mortise & tenon joint. Or, more to the point, get out and have a proper look at the country we call home. And that's one of the main reasons we did this. Before we bought the boat, this beautiful part of England that we’ve been slowly meandering through was just a blur of scenery between Northampton and the M25. If the last 5 months are anything to go by, our boating life is going to be just as much a voyage of discovery as all our travels before-hand.

So no, it’s not over. We’ll re-write the profile and change the sub-title to reflect what we’re doing now, but one thing we’ve learnt from all this is that we’ll never, ever be listless.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Oxford Canal. Upper Heyford

We’re still at Allens Lock at Upper Heyford. This is the first lock that anyone hiring a boat from Oxforshire Narrowboats gets to, so it’s often quite exciting.

The big news is that Ken has got a new home. A lovely couple called Emma & Richard won him on Ebay, and are taking him home with them on Saturday. We had a very pleasant time with them on Wednesday and we hope they’ll have as much fun with him as we did.
Thank-you Ken, you did good.

On the boat we’ve put a pane of glass in the cratch board
The next thing is a canvas cover over the front to make a very useful welly-taking-off area. There are a couple of places on the net that do cratch covers to order; i.e. you send them your measurements and they make the cover and send it back. Trouble is, every boat is different and we’re not entirely convinced that without actually seeing it themselves the result would be as good. They are considerably cheaper though, and the measurements that you send them are probably exactly the same ones as more expensive tailor-made firms would take, and they probably do a sterling job and if we send them some photos and talk to them on the phone…… Anyway, we’re going to look into it. The bow is masked up for painting, we're going to have to decide on what sort of lettering we want before much longer. At the back end we've stained the roof boxes and finished fixing the solar panels to the top of the rear one. There are hasps and staples on all four sides so that it can be lifted and pointed towards the sun in any direction while still being padlocked to the boat. It took a lot of thinking to end up with something pleasingly simple.
We had a walk into Lower Heyford on Tuesday; it’s only a couple of miles down the tow-path, but for the first time this year we had to get dressed up in woolly jumpers hats and and coats. We really enjoyed the feeling of being wrapped up against the elements and the hawthorn berries, rose hips, elderberries and hazelnuts that we found on the way only added to our inner autumnal glow. We missed autumn last year – we didn’t leave Portugal till the end of November, so we’re looking forward to kicking leaves around, wearing scarves and gloves and coming home to a cosy boat with a homemade casserole bubbling away on the log burner. Mind you, while we were sitting in a tea shop by the station the wind picked up, the heavens opened and lounging about in a beach bar in the tropics sipping Pina Coladas suddenly seemed like quite a nice idea.

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Stourbridge Canal. BCN. Grand Union Canal. Kinver to Kixley Wharf

There are 25 locks from Hyde Corner to Merry Hill, but we had a fabulous day working up through them all. The Stourton and ...