Saturday 21 April 2018

Oxford canal. Aynho Wharf to The Thames.

On the way to Upper Heyford it took all our combined boating skills to get through the lift bridge just south of Ayhno without hitting it. It wasn’t horrendously windy, but it was blowing straight across the canal, so getting the boat to the side and then setting off again was swift and interesting. Somerton Deep lock was a lot easier with plenty of trees to give it shelter, although it was very deep!
When we got to Allen’s lock we tied up in exactly the same spot we’d occupied 6 years ago and it was just as lovely as we remembered it being. We were busy for the first couple of days with work on a wet and windy Cambridge train station, plus lots of wood chopping for Dave and embroidery for Ann-Marie. She’d almost completed a cross-stitch to commemorate Thibault’s arrival...
...all that was left was the crucial details in the middle - date, time and weight. That information happily came two days before we were due to fly out there, with a phone call from Harry to say that the little lad had entered the world safe and well after just two hours labour. Whoosh!
The next two days were spent finishing, stringing and framing the cross-stitch and knitting a pair of rabbit booties, then we had a terrific evening at the annual WRG Barn Dance before driving down to Karen’s. Our flight to France the next morning was slightly dramatic, first we had to return to the stand so that the paramedics could take a poor lady off after she suffered from a panic attack, then once we were airborne there was so much turbulence that the seatbelt lights came back on and the pilot told the cabin crew to go and strap themselves in!

All that drama was forgotten though when we got to the hospital where Frankie was staying.

Little Thibault stole our hearts and over the next week as we got to know him we just loved him more and more.
Norm & Jude - Harry’s mum and dad - who we’ve known for years, were there for a week as well, so with Jan & Paul living next door, he had all six of his grandparents at his beck and call.
We all took turns cooking and all ate together each evening which was either followed by a game of cards or a chat over a few bottles of wine. It was a lovely week, full of baby cuddles, with loads of friends and neighbours coming over to welcome the young man to the world.

Back in the UK we had a quick wizz round the rellies before heading back to Legend via the chippy.
Next morning we pulled the pins and set off for Shipton-on-Cherwell. At Baker’s lock we met a man who we’d first met at Claydon in 2011 and who remembered our names! We were completely put to shame as we didn’t even recognise him.
From Baker’s lock the canal joins the River Cherwell on it’s way down to Shipton wier and the warning board was just on the edge of the red/amber, but the flow didn’t look too bad and several other boaters had told us that it was OK to navigate even when it was over the red. And it was. The turns were a bit speedy, but getting in and out of the flow was a doddle and we turned up at Shipton Weir lock just as another boat was pulling off the lock landing to go into it. Lovely.

We got moored at the first visitor spot at Shipton. Last time we were here we had walks across the fields to the abandoned manor house at Hampton Gay and all around, this time there was none of that. Mainly because all the surrounding fields were underwater, but also because it hardly stopped raining for a fortnight. And for the first week there was a BCN clean up to go to...

plus we got a couple of jobs in Birmingham. The second weekend was Easter and we drove down to Penzance to help out at Kate’s first proper art exhibition in a proper gallery in St Ives, no less!

She and Rod had hired it for a week and we, along with Anne and Jen, gave a last minute hand to hang pictures and go round the walls touching up the emulsion before the doors opened.

It was very successful, lots of people visiting, drinking wine and looking round and we believe she sold quite a few paintings. We thought it was brilliant. It was the first time we’d seen any of Kate’s abstract work on anything apart from a phone screen; it looked completely at home on a gallery wall and we were very impressed.
We were staying in an Air B&B, the first time we’d done that, and it was very…. well, trying to be Shabby Chic, but without the chic, and all seemingly done on purpose.
Very ‘Penzance’ is the best way to describe it; the whole town is a bit like that.

On a cold, wet and windy Easter Sunday we walked round the bay to Marizion...
...where we met Anne & Jen and went over the causeway to St Michael’s Mount.

Who in their right mind would go and visit one of the most popular tourist sites in the UK on a rainy Easter Sunday and expect to be able to get a seat in the café? Well we did, and someone must have been smiling down on us because although there were hordes of people queueing out of the door in the rain at the NT café, just a bit further up the hill was the Sail Loft Restaurant, which had plenty of space.

After climbing the hill and visiting the castle...

...we returned to the Sail Loft for a cream tea.

Anne and Jen having more tea at Sennen Cove the next day

We waited for the tide to cover the causeway then, against advice to the contrary, we paid the ferryman to take us to the other side.
On the way back from Cornwall we Stopped off for a cuppa with John in New Mills. It was good to see John looking well and it’s always good to catch up with him; he was there when the idea of our narrowboat adventure was hatched and he’s been following our travels ever since.
From there we carried on up the A30 to Holdsworthy for a night at Jacqui & Al’s. In the afternoon, while Jacqui worked her magic on Ann-Marie’s hair, Al took Dave for a walk to see the remains of the Holsworthy branch of the Bude Canal, including the remains of an aqueduct over a river. This fascinating little isolated network used to cover 35 miles and was built to transport the nutrient rich sand from Bude inland to make the fields more fertile. As well as the big sea lock leading to the broad wharf section, which enabled the sea-going flats to discharge their cargo into smaller craft, it had 6 inclined planes that the little wheeled tub boats would be winched up by water power.

When we got back our fortnight was up so we moved down to Thrupp and pitched up on the very picturesque 7day visitor moorings.
From there we were planning on going straight out onto the Thames, but a quick glance at the EA river conditions web site put a stop to that. With all the recent rain, combined with the snow melt from the previous weeks the Thames had red “Warning Strong Stream” boards on every lock from Lechlade to the tidal limit at Teddington, and it was still raining. Other boaters that we talked to told us that the Cherwell was in full spate as well, so even if we had wanted to turn round and go back, we couldn’t. We emailed CRT for advice and they were very accommodating, telling us that the local mooring wardens were fully aware of the situation and that we should stay put until the flow reduced and navigation was possible once more.

So we had nearly two weeks waiting for the river to go back to normal. We made and crossed a lot of little things off lists, Dave got all the battery cables heat shrunk and tidied up, made a new housing for all our DVD cases, properly fitted the new ammeter plus a switch for the red voltmeter so we can turn it off at night if we’re sleeping in the saloon, and made some brackets for holding the boat pole and boat hook on the roof. Ann-Marie washed all the curtains and the cuddly toys,...
...thinned out the wardrobe and cleaned through the whole boat. We filled up with diesel from coal boat Dusty and generally caught up with all our outstanding jobs.

At the weekend Ian & Rachael came to stay. They are friends from the 2CV club and were on their way from Essex back to their home in Wales. We hadn’t seen them for ages so it was lovely to have them on board. We weren’t sure what time they were going to turn up so Ann-Marie had made enough soup for lunch, just in case. They phoned to say they’d be turning up around 4, which was just as well because Nick from NB Gloriana, who we’d met at Aynho, came by that morning to borrow an allen key and we were able to invite him in for lunch!
In the morning, Ian and Racheal left after a light breakfast and Ann-Marie phoned the folks for a chat. Mum said Dad was a bit down so Ann-Marie pointed out that we were only an hour or so away and that an afternoon on the boat would cheer them both up. Which is how Mum & Dad got to have bacon rolls on board Legend for lunch, followed by a delightful afternoon playing cards and a delicious meal in The Boat Inn in the evening. A very enjoyable impromptu day.

We tried to go for a walk down the towpath to Dukes Cut to see if there were any decent moorings further down, but we only got a far as the next lock before it got too muddy to carry on and we came back along the main road. And it was still raining; a few of the red boards had turned amber, but had since gone back to red. However the forecast was for a brighter patch the following week.

The next weekend we went down to Walton-on-Thames for the funeral of Ann-Marie’s Uncle John.
A biker all his life, there was only one way for him to go.
It was of course emotional but like most funerals, once the serious part was over, the wake was a buffet and cake fuelled reunion of friends and family who hadn’t seen each other for years.

By coincidence the wake was held at the Weir near Sunbury Lock on the Thames, at the other end of the very river we’ve been waiting to get out on, and later in the year we should be moored in that very same spot, so it was handy to be able to have a look at the moorings. Dave and Dad went for a walk down to the lock...
 ...this was his and John’s old stomping ground in their younger days and he told Dave about all the stuff that he and his brother got up to. It was hard to leave the pub and the goodbyes seemed to take forever, but finally, with a boot full of cake, we headed back to Karen’s for a brew before driving home. Above all we’ll remember it as a happy event, just as John would have wanted.

At the weekend, Chloe, Shandy and Caleb were staying with Paul and Janice at Jon and Jo’s house in Matlock.* So on Sunday morning we had a really early start and were up there for 9.30. We had a lovely day with them; we went to Matlock Bath and had a walk along the riverside, played on the swings, looked at the motorbikes, had fish and chips and got back to the cars just as it started raining.

Then we went back and watched the highlights of the Grand Prix, (from China, not Bahrain) while the kids played with Sienna and Layla’s seemingly endless mountain of pink toys.
That was followed by a pizza tea and lots of chatting before we headed off home again.

As the red boards on the EA website gradually turned amber so our thoughts turned to our plans for the Thames. We had a drive over to Swinford Bridge and Eynsham Lock to check out the moorings (which were good)
and the possibility of parking (which there wasn’t).

We also had a day in Oxford finding out about mooring in the city centre (which is possible) and had a look at the air draught at Osney Bridge (which will be higher when we get there)(hopefully).

After lengthy discussion we came to the conclusion that for the first part of our Thames trip at least, it would be easier to not have the car with us. Our first idea was to leave it at Thrupp, which would have been perfectly safe, but would not be that easy to get back to. Our second idea was to leave it with Lesley and Pete, some friends of Anne’s who live in Henley. Pete works at Oxford Airport near Kidlington and they’d told us a couple of times that they’d be happy to look after our car whenever we wanted. That made more sense, so we finally left Thrupp and moved about a mile and a half to Roundham Lock which is an easy walk from Kidlington.

We made full use of our last day with the car by driving out to Kelmscot and Radcot for a mooring reccé...
...and then carying on to the National Trust Buscot Park...

...where we had a lovely walk round the expansive grounds and water gardens.

On the way home we noticed a sign for the Uffington White Horse, so we went and had a look at that as well.

The next morning Dave was up bright and early to take our car over to Henley so he could get a lift back with Pete on his way to work.
After breakfast we cast off and set off towards Oxford. At the bottom of Duke’s Lock we turned right and entered Duke’s Cut which joins the canal and the Thames. 

We were a bit apprehensive because although the web-site was showing amber “Stream Decreasing” boards on the stretch we were heading for, there had been a red “Caution Strong Stream” board at the junction we’d just passed. We knew that at the end of this channel we would be out on the Thames proper and have to make a turn into the flow to begin pushing against the river on our way up to Lechlade.

*Pay attention, this is complicated. Jon and Jo weren’t there, they were in Bahrain for the Grand Prix, so Paul & Janice had flown over from France to babysit their grandchildren for a week. Chloe and Shandy took Caleb for a weekend with his cousins before their holiday in Centerparks with some of Chloe’s old uni mates.
Ironically, that was the weekend the Grand Prix had been moved to China.

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