Monday, 22 January 2018

Grand Union Canal. Oxford Canal. Stockton to Cropredy


Goodness, it’s been a while.
Dave’s 60th birthday in France was certainly one to remember.


 
Anne flew over to help us celebrate for a few days then, on the night itself, the whole family had chipped in to buy tickets for us, along with Frankie, Harry and Anne, to go for an evening of proper French cabaret at L’Ange Bleu (The Blue Angel) The web site doesn’t begin to describe how absolutely fabulous the place was; there was a really good four course dinner, accompanied by singers and musicians followed by a spectacular evening of entertainment with dancing girls, circus acts, dancing girls, magicians, comedians, dancing girls, singers and more. And dancing girls. Wearing lots of feathers. And very little else.

When the final curtain came down the disco fired up and we finally left the place at about 2:30am after dancing our socks off.


What a fantastic evening.

It was good to spend some time with the French gang and so good to see Frankie and Harry...

...the next time we visit little Thibault will have arrived! While they were out we put their Christmas decorations up for them.
Back in the UK we stopped at Karen’s before going home so we could go to the Royal Logistics Corps Christmas Band Concert at Deepcut Barracks. It’s the second time we’ve been and they are brilliant. Incredibly professional while still managing to make the audience feel involved. When we came out of the theatre we really felt like Christmas was about to arrive.

Back at Legend we were in no doubt whatsoever that Christmas was about to arrive.




As Bob and Mandy were moored just round the corner at Wigrams Turn we popped over to see them and had a happy, chatty evening with mulled wine, stollen, dinner and strictly on a big telly. Well it’s big compared to our ipad mini! What teriffic friends we have.

A couple of days later the canal round us had thawed, so we pulled the pins and headed for Napton Junction with and the Oxford Canal. We didn’t get far before discovering that not all the ice had gone. As a rule we try not to go ice breaking; it’s hard work, the lock sides are slippery and dangerous and of course bashing through the ice does the blacking no good whatsoever. But once you’re in it there really is no option but to keep going.
After we turned onto the Oxford it was a lot better and but we still had to use the boat hook to bash our way into the edge at Napton. After lunch we walked round  to the Folly Inn for an afternoon of lovely mulled wine and cider with Bob and Mandy.

To celebrate Ann-Marie’s birthday we went into Leamington Spa and had tea and cake at Vinteas very posh tea room...
...followed by a visit to the Napton Cidery who happened to be having an open day and were giving out tasters of their delicious cider and free sausages. God, we know how to live!

On a beautifully bright and frosty Sunday morning we worked Legend up the pretty Napton flight to moor up at Marston Doles and the beginning of the long summit of the South Oxford Canal.
Not surprisingly we were the only boat moving, and just after we moored up it became overcast and the rain started. Later on there was a break in the rain, so we were able to walk down the locks for another visit to the splendid Folly Inn for some more of their mulled wine, this time with Gordon and Helena, who we hadn’t seen for ages. Poor Helena had a broken wrist but she was in very good spirits and it was really lovely to see them and spend time catching up.

That was followed by a trip to Shropshire to see Laura and Alison in their new home. Large Marge had been sold and they were getting to grips with life on the land again. We thought we’d had a lot of snow but over there it had brought down trees and had brought the whole of Wenlock Edge to a halt for the best part of a week. We stayed the night in their annex and the next day went for a grand day out to Attingham Park, which was decorated with a 1940’s Christmas theme.

It was one of the most entertaining visits to a National Trust house we’ve ever had; there was loads of things going on, from paper decoration making to a whole host of yummy war-time things fresh from the range in the amazing kitchen.




After a lovely venison pie dinner and a late drive home, we deployed the electric blanket and snuggled into bed while the fire warmed the boat up again, then the next morning we pulled the pins again and set off for Fenny Compton. After lunch we walked back for the car, using the footpaths to short-cut all of James Brindley’s contour-line meanders that give the South Oxford it’s beautiful wandering rural character. It’s lovely to boat along it and it’s ever changing views, but when you just want to get back to where you came from, a nice straight bridal way is a much better choice.

The Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton is one of our favourite canal-side pubs so it was good to be able to re-visit the place after 6 years. We met up with Chris and Kate and a bunch of other boaters who frequent the place. Dave had been friends with Chris for six months or so on social media, but up till that point they’d never met. Sadly it was a one time event; the following day we were off to Ireland for Christmas and by the time we got back Chris and Kate were going to be in Tazmania and wouldn’t be back before Legend had to move on. Never-the-less it was a really good night with some really genuine people.

Christmas in Antrim was wonderful. We started with a visit to Belfast Christmas market and the traditional big German sausage.
On Christmas eve we took Paddy for a big walk in the woods...
...had a tour of Shandy’s relatives before a magical evening of reading "The Night Before Christmas"  to Caleb...
followed by pizza in front of their really big telly. (Big by everyone’s standard, not just ours!)
On Christmas morning we had bacon bagels while we watched Caleb getting to grips with the complexities of wrapping paper...

...then we we all treated to the little lad mastering the art of standing up and walking across the floor! What a fantastic Christmas present!
Shandy, with Dave as kitchen porter, turned out a fabulous Christmas dinner for ten...
...followed, over the course of the evening, by pudding, a cheese board and a brilliant games night.
A perfect Christmas day.

Back home again there was no letting up in the pace of life. As we were half way between Dave’s and Anne’s birthdays, we’d booked a big table in the Wharf Inn for an afternoon Burdett Gathering.
We’re really pleased that getting Judith, Dave, Kate and Anne together in the same room is becoming quite a common occurrence; when we were younger it was a much rarer thing. There were plenty of hugs and kisses as everyone began to arrive and we all had a really good lunch,

followed by tea aboard the boat. We easily managed to smash Legend’s record by having fifteen people all sitting down and eating at once...
...which was terrific fun and involved a lot of passing of plates and drinks and a lot of swaying about whenever anyone got up.

New Year was spent in Devon with Jacqui & Al. Kate had stayed over after the party so we were able to drop her off at Exeter St David’s station on the way down so she could catch the train to Penzance. The Village Hall New Year Disco is the highlight of the year in Chilsworthy and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We were made very welcome by the villagers and danced the night away till way after midnight, then went back to their lovely cottage and played cards until Ali fell asleep at half past three.
In the morning we went over to Bude for a very windy New Year’s Day walk along the beach.

We went and got an inland waterways fix climbing over the sand-dunes to the Bude Canal sea lock.



On the way home we stopped in Bristol to see Anne who gave us a tour of her local woods, a very nice curry, and a comfy bed to sleep in.
What a wonderful sister we have.

Back on board we had one final day to prepare Legend for its four-yearly boat safety examination, although by then there really wasn’t anything more we could do. But we took the Christmas decorations down which made it look a lot less cluttered and had a good clean through.
That afternoon we were charging our batteries when the generator unexpectedly stopped Dave had a cursory examination of all the obvious things but couldn’t find anything wrong, so we put it away to be dealt with at a more convenient time; having a BSS exam with a petrol genny in bits in the engine room is really not a good idea.

In the morning we moved first to the water point and then along a bit to Fenny Wharf. Less than quarter of a mile in total but much easier for our examiner to get to. Much like an MOT test, it is up to the boat owner to appoint an examiner but unlike an MOT, the examiner comes to the boat. It’s always best to ask local boaters for their advice; Steve Williams came highly recommended by Chris and turned out to be the perfect combination of friendly and professional. Happily we passed on all counts, so to celebrate we went out and bought a laminator and laminated our new, very expensive gold licence plates so that they don’t turn mush in the windows.

Dave spent the next day with the genny in bits.
Just before he got too cold to carry on he discovered that the coil pick-up was positioned a bit far from the rotor. He re-adjusted it and got a spark at the plug, which was more than he’d managed to do all day. As he now couldn’t feel his fingers he left it in bits overnight.
In the morning he put it back together and Hey Presto, it worked.
It was Karen’s 50th birthday that week. Ann-Marie made her a stunning cake...
...and had spent the previous month organising, and somehow managing to keep secret, a surprise party for her. As far as Karen knew, she was going out for a meal with us, Mum, Dad and the kids, but when she arrived at the restaurant 24 of her friends and family were already there to help her celebrate.


She was completely and utterly blown away and it was a fantastic evening. Karen and Andrew share a birthday, so we all sang “Happy Birthday” to the pair of them and he got a cake too.

Before we’d left to go to Karen’s, Dave had checked the car over and topped up the screen wash. When Ann-Marie came to put some stuff on the back seat she was horrified to find that the present bag, which Dave had put nicely and securely behind the drivers seat, was sitting in a puddle of screen wash that had syphoned itself into the rear foot-well from the pipe that goes to the rear screen. Both Karen’s and Andrew’s cards and presents were rather soggy, but at that stage of the game there was nothing we could do apart from spread everything out on the back seat, put the blowers on and hope for the best. As it turned out it was only the wrapping paper that had suffered, the contents were fine, so no real harm done.

Back home the next morning, we said goodbye to Fenny and pushed off to Hay Bridge. On the way we picked up a roof-full of firewood that Dave had wombled a couple of days before and stashed in four secluded spots along the way.

Just after we’d loaded up the last of it we came across a very low branch that had been blown over the canal, not a very big branch but too low for us to get through.
We stopped the boat and Dave went to the front with the pruning saw and in no time at all had cleared the way for our continued navigation.
However, in a text book example of an equal and opposite reaction, as he threw the last and biggest branch onto the tow path, his foot slipped and he fell in the canal.
Thanks to a handy tree stump growing out of the bank, he was out again like lightning, so he didn’t get that cold, just very wet. Ann-Marie took over steering while he went and had a hot shower and got changed. The dunking score is now 2 all. Hopefully it will remain so.

The rest of that week was mainly spent cutting up all the wood, but we did get out for a couple of walks in the rather muddy Oxfordshire countryside,

and moved down through two of the pretty Claydon locks to moor up just above the middle one. There was a lovely wide tow path, a convenient car park and a beautiful view southwards over the fields. Looking out southwards is always on our list of mooring tick boxes especially now that we’ve got better cable and low resistance connectors on the solar panels. On the subject of solar panels, we’ve decided to buy another, bigger panel to add to our array, as well as a very informative ammeter to tell us how much power is going in and out of the batteries. All this electrical upgrading is a direct result of Dave joining a facebook group called “12volt Boating Group”. Ann-Marie has nick-named it the “Spend Loads of Money On Your Boat Group” which is true in the short term, but should save us money in the long term by making our batteries last longer by not cycling them so deeply, and using less fuel to recharge them. The theory is that although our current solar set up is plenty for a sunny day between May and September, in the winter, or even when it’s overcast for a couple of days, it’s next to useless. Adding another panel will extend the summer period, and reduce the amount of additional charging we need to do in the winter. Obviously it will also give us a surplus in the summer which we can either dump or, if there’s enough of it, might use for cooking or heating water.
One reason we’ve not taken this step before is because of the price of panels. When we bought our original set up nearly seven years ago we paid £500 for two 80W panels. That works out at over £3 per watt. It’s hard to know for certain, but they probably took around four years to pay for themselves. The panel we’re about to buy is 260W and will cost £100, or about 38p per watt. We should point out that our new panel is actually 3years old and came from a solar farm that had upgraded but it is not that far from the new price. The surge in renewable energy has seen the price of panels and controllers plummet to the point where we should be able to recoup the cost within a year and extend the life of our batteries to boot. We will still need to run our genny for recharging in the short days of winter; a boat roof is just not big enough for an array that would overcome that, but a new panel will mean that we do it for shorter periods and less often.

On a bright and sunny day in January we set off for Brighton where the very nice people at Bimble Solar have their warehouse. The panel was 1x1.5 meters, and although we’d measured the inside of the car to make sure it fitted it was a close thing, another couple of inches and it wouldn’t have gone in.
Rather than coming straight back up the motorway we came home via a very breezy Littlehampton where we stopped and had a walk and lunch on the prom, and Portsmouth where we dropped in to say hello to Elaine who we haven’t seen for ages. A very enjoyable day out.
Back at the boat it was blowing a hoolie so we left the panel in the car till the next morning.

We’d really wanted to stay at Claydon for the full fortnight, but just after breakfast the next day our taps started splurting, meaning we were about to run out of water. We changed our plans for the day, got the new panel from the car and tied it to the roof, and then set off for Cropredy where the next tap was located. Karma was obviously hard at work on our behalf; it was a cold but fabulously bright and sunny day with not a lot of wind and, as it turned out, the only decent boating day that week. After watering up and emptying the bin, we’re now tied up on the visitor moorings from where we can back up to the tap before we depart in a couple of weeks. The South Oxford is not very well endowed with water taps, which makes our slow pace of travel a bit tricky; we have to make sure we’ve got a full tank before we head off into the middle of nowhere.

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