Thursday 22 December 2011

Grand Union Canal. Stockton to Welsh Road.

We’re moored up for Christmas in a beautiful spot just above Welsh Road lock.
It’s very practical too, there’s a proper car park right next to the bridge, so the car is about 100 yards away; very useful when you’ve got a load of Christmas stuff to deliver to various parts of the country.

We chose this spot as it’s 5 locks and 4 miles from here into the centre of Leamington Spa. Anne’s coming to stay with us for Christmas and we’re planning on cruising down the locks and into town wearing Santa hats and playing carols at full blast. We reckon we can fit it in between opening presies and listening to the Queen’s speech on the radio.

We’ve gone from scraping the bottom of the coal scuttle to having enough fuel on board for a small power station. Despite being held up by the ice, Mark turned up with the coal boat Callisto at about lunch time on Tuesday and transferred 176 litres of diesel (ouch!) and 6 bags of Stoveglow onto Legend.
We did a careful calculation with our dip-stick and worked out that we have a 240 litre tank and that we’ve used 112 litres since we bought the boat in April. That’s 14 litres per month. While we were waiting for Callisto to come down the locks, Dave went scavenging in the woods and found a fallen Ash tree, most of which is now on our roof along with the coal.

British Waterways have been busy round here; 2 guys on a work boat followed us down the Bascote staircase locks and then set about the very leaky bottom gate with gusto. In less than an hour they’d turned the torrent or water rushing through the gates into something a lot less alarming. The morning after we arrived here at Welsh Road a whole team of day-glo suited blokes turned up with 2 vans and what looked like a torpedo on a trolley. On this part of the GU there are a lot of back pumps which take water from the bottom of a lock and return it to the top. In 1930, when the canal was modernised and improved, new wide locks were built alongside the original narrow ones. Nowadays the narrow locks are not used and the bottom gates have been replaced by weirs. When a back pimp is installed by a lock, they often get put inside the weir, pumping the shortest distance from the lower level to the higher. The torpedo turned out to be a new back pump, this is the old one after they pulled it out.
This is where the new one goes, you can just see the water flowing out of the top through the gap.
During the 5 hours it was switched off the water level dropped about 6 inches, although some of that may have been on purpose to make changing the pump easier. It took a whole day to recover to the proper level, although to be fair, this lock is due for closure in January for maintenance. Judging from the amount of boats on the move at the moment they could close anything anywhere and no-one would notice. Maybe it’ll be busier over Christmas week.

Merry Christmas reader and thank you for your company during what for us has been a momentous year. We’ve accomplished a lifestyle change that could so easily have been just a dream till it was too late. We wish we had pound for every time we’ve heard the phrase “Oh, I always wanted to do that.” It’s not our style to administer advice but if we’ve learnt anything on our travels it is this: Life is not a rehearsal. Use your best china.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Oxford & Grand Union. Marston Doles to Stockton.

Good Grief! Time doesn’t half fly when you’re having fun!

We’ve both had lock-winding birthdays in the past couple of weeks. We went down the newly reopened Napton flight on Dave’s
and then down the Stockton flight on Ann-Marie’s.
In between the two we went from the old, narrow Oxford canal onto the new (ish; it was widened and improved in the 1930s) Grand Union. We’ve been in narrow locks and bridge ‘oles since June so it was a bit weird steering Legend into the 14’ wide Calcutt top lock.
When we’re on our own and in a wide lock we only use one gate, and once we are back into the routine, wide locks, although they look more daunting, are actually easier and quicker to get through. We’re now moored at the bottom of the Stockton flight, right outside the Blue Lias pub, which is competing with Blackpool for the “Brightest Illuminations” trophy, and a short walk from the happily named Long Itchington and its many hostelries. We’re here for a couple of days waiting for a coal boat to come back. We’ve cut it a bit fine on the old gathering winter fu-oo-el front, but Star Class Carrying should be back tomorrow with a goodly stock of smokeless and we’ll be OK for another few weeks. We do try to buy from the boats when we can rather than land based merchants. We’re still always on the lookout for firewood when we go for walks; ideally we use wood during the day and put a scuttle full of coal on at night so that it’s still alight and snug in the morning.

In the evening on Dave’s birthday, Mum & Dad, Chloe & Shandy and Frankie & Harry joined us for a meal in the Folly Inn at Napton. We had a lovely time; it’s not that often that the eight of us get together. After Mum & Dad had gone home we somehow managed to find a bed for everyone else on the boat.

A fortnight later on her birthday, after being a boatwoman for nine months, Ann-Marie put an (almost) steady hand on the tiller for the first time.
After a mile and a half of hitting absolutely nothing, causing precisely no major calamities and feeling rather pleased with herself she put it back where it belongs. Dave will happily steer all day long, and Ann-Marie will happily let him, but she needed to prove to herself that if necessary, she could.
She can.

In the afternoon Nikki came to join us for a few hours, she brought some home-made apple wine and we fed her home-made mince pies. Bliss. The day after that Kim & Luke joined us for a games afternoon followed by a meal in the highly illuminated Blue Lias to further help with the birthday doings. All this seasonal good will and bonn-homme does seem to have resulted in an unusual amount of pub food appearing in our diet just recently; we fully expect to be back to beans on toast and 11p Aldi noodles in January.

We’ve been ice-breaking! Very exciting stuff. We were woken up on Saturday morning by some very strange clonks and creaks and looked out of the window to see the ducks skating around on a frozen canal. After breakfast another boat came past us going the other way and ploughed a channel through it, so we fired up the Lister, put all the artic gear on and shoved off towards the locks.
Turned out the other boat had only come from round the corner so we were soon pushing sheets of virgin ice into the reeds. We made sure we were going very slowly as we passed other boats; having large chunks of ice banging into your hull doesn’t do the blacking any good and can be quite alarming, especially if you’re in a plastic river cruiser.

Other things we’ve done recently; Dave’s driven Chloe and Shandy’s Bay VDub which was brilliant and took him straight back to the Splitty that he had when he was too young and stupid to look after it properly.

We went to the Coventry Transport Museum with those two plus Luke & Wiltz. We’re vaguely attempting to visit places of interest in our vicinity as we move around the country. This place is definitely worth a look; a lot of thought has gone into displaying the hundreds of exhibits to put them into the scenario of their daily use, rather than just lines of stuff with dates on it. There can’t be many people who go through it without finding something their dad used to have.

Along with Shandy, Frankie and Harry we squeezed into Chloe’s flat for the weekend and went to the Frankfurter and German Beer market in Birmingham.
Twice, due to a misunderstanding of closing times. (“Why is everyone going the other way?”) It was much better on Sunday afternoon.

We’ve decided to go to Stratford in the New Year before heading up through Birmingham to Halesowen for Easter. There are various lock and bridge closures on the Stratford-on-Avon canal between January and March, but we should be able to dodge them. We have - as always - a list.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Oxford Canal. Fenny Compton to Marston Doles.

Where’s everybody gone? It’s as if someone turned a switch on November 1st and made all the boats disappear. We do know where they are really. They’re either tucked up in marinas, or they’re on winter moorings…… or they’re on a canal that isn’t a temporary dead end. Read on…

After moving the car to Marston Doles Bridge, walking back and filling our water tank, we left Fenny Compton around 2pm with Luke as crew. This, as it turned out, was about an hour too late. The James Brindley designed Oxford is a contour hugging, meandering waterway; there are several horseshoe bends and one place where, as you go round a bend to your right, the bridge you are going to go under in half an hour is across a field to your left!
It’s all great fun, but the twists and turns make a nonsense of our 4mph top speed. On most of it we were lucky to be doing half that and ended up way after sunset on the final mile and a half with the headlight on. We knew we would be ok though; the Napton flight - which starts at Marston Doles bridge - was closed for maintenance, making the bit of canal we’re on at the moment effectively a cul-de-sac and there were no other boats between us and the end. We got moored at about 5.30 in pitch darkness, took Luke back to The Wharf Inn, where his bike was, then stayed for a meal and for the arrival of Chloe and Shandy in their newly acquired VW camper!
The following day in our hectic social calendar we drove up to Anne’s in Chesterfield and went to a very packed and very enthusiastic barn dance at her local community centre. With the excellent Brampton Community Band and free chips. Oh Yes, it’s all exciting stuff!

The central heating is back together and working better than it has ever done. Why it was put together like that God alone knows. Other good boat stuff: Dave’s got a new toy.
It’s called a Log Grenade. That’s some well-seasoned oak that we picked up a while ago and nothing else would touch it. We went up to Whaley Bridge and got a new pair of fenders from Brian and Ann Marie who own and work NB Alton, trading as The Peak Forest Canal Carrying Company / Renaissance. We first met these guys through the 2CV club and they’ve been a very big step on our road to being boaters, they gave us loads of advice and even had us to stay for a couple of days on their coal run along the Trent and Mersey. We lock-wheeled Heartbreak Hill and sat on the coal through Harecastle Tunnel. Good times.
Thanks B&AM, they look fantastic! Our old hessian back fender was so rotten that it fell apart when it came off.
The varnishing saga is continuing apace; Dave has started on the internal window frames now. We’ve ordered an 18” porthole for the kitchen, that’s been on the list from day one. It’s turned up at Kim and Luke’s and we’ll pick it up next Tuesday when we go to the Quiz Night. Which we nearly won last week, by the way. Not so thick after all!

This is what the Napton Flight looks like without any water.
The whole flight of 8 locks is closed while BW put in 2 new gates, a new balance beam and carry out general repairs. They’ve been draining and re-filling various bits and it’s very interesting to see what goes on under the surface. Here's a view of a lock paddle that you never usually see.
Note the new lock gate. It'll be nice when it's painted.

We had a day of mixed emotion last Monday; we attended the funeral of one of Ann-Marie’s former work colleagues. Helen was well known in the tight knit farming community in South Lincolnshire and the little church was overflowing with relatives, friends and co-workers. Afterwards, at the reception, was the first time we’d seen anyone from the farm since we sold the house, so although it was a sad occasion, it was lovely to catch up, however briefly, with people who were part of our lives when we lived there. We came away feeling ashamed that it took a funeral to get us back in touch. Such is the way of things; Dave used to say that his relatives only ever saw him when he was wearing a suit. Our main reason for taking our chosen path is to spend more time with the people who are important to us. We must make more of an effort.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Oxford Canal. Fenny Compton.

Autumn is getting into full swing now; we’ve been to a 2CV Club Halloween party in the pub, the fire is on all day, there are pumpkins on the bow and we’re going for walks with big boots and woolly hats on. The trees are so magical at this time of year. This is the view through Fenny Compton Tunnel.
Spot the deliberate mistake. In 1860 the top was removed and it was turned into a cutting. Talking of going for walks, we went out a couple of days ago in the afternoon, along the towpath, and then off on two little footpaths forming a loop to bring us back to the canal. It was obvious from the start that the second of these was a rarely used path; there were no other footprints and Old Farmer Palmer had ploughed right to the edge of his field and planted winter wheat, but we plodded on, getting a good workout from the rough terrain. Then we came across an electric fence right across the path. We checked the map to make sure we weren’t in the wrong place before ducking under it and forging ahead. Sure enough, a little way ahead the next yellow way-marker came into view. What also came into view were a couple of cows standing in the open gateway. Now cows don’t bother us much, but these two had their rather large and snorting boyfriends with them. As the saying goes, we made our excuses and left. Sharpish, back the way we’d come and very cross. Ok, so it’s only a footpath from nowhere on a busy A road to a bridge over the cut, and we were probably the only people to have walked it in months, and the bulls might have got there by accident, but the electric fence didn’t . It’s a right of way and our very Britishness has been assaulted. Hopefully there’s some ombudsman we can complain to. We’ll probably use green ink and underline things.

Before and after the very good Halloween party, quite a few of our friends from 2CVGB came along from the pub campsite to see us and our little boat. They were all rather jealous that we could just stagger home when the party ended, rather than having to crawl into a tent. It was good to see everyone and the effort put in to ghoulishness and ghostliness by all concerned was, as usual, excellent.

Last week we had our longest separation since we got together. Ann-Marie went to her parents' for 4 days to help out after Pete came out of hospital following surgery and Dave stayed on the boat. He took the opportunity to empty the wardrobe onto the bed and put some ventilation in. It’s important to get as much air movement as possible through all the cupboards on a boat, so he’s put a slatted panel in both sides, cut slots or holes in the shelves and drilled low level holes around the base.
While he was at it he cut an access hatch in the wardrobe floor, Waxoyled the steel under it and fitted a bilge pump with an automatic float switch.
That’s our lowest point. If, God forbid, we should spring a leak, or if the pipes burst, then we’ll know about it long before our feet get wet. It’s one of the few things that you’re allowed to bypass the battery isolator for so it’s wired up with its own in-line fuse. He also put some diamond vents in the lounge cupboards, painted the drawer fronts and lowered the table and made it hinge 6” away from the wall so we can store the chairs behind it when it’s down.
Busy little what-not isn’t he? Ann-Marie came home to a completely different boat. He also painted an old “Ripple Bonnet” 2CV headlight to use as our tunnel light.
This is what our re-vamped front end looks like now.
This is what it was like when we bought it.
Dave’s now having a varnishing frenzy. All the lower panels in the boat need a couple of coats, as do the new book shelves, the boxes in the lounge, the table, the front steps etc. etc. It is looking good though. All mellow, glowing colours with beautiful grain patterns and all becoming part of the fabric of the boat rather than just stuff that’s in it. Ann-Marie hasn't been idle either, but all the stuff she's been doing is top secret at the moment. All will be revealed in due course.

We had a night at Kim & Luke’s after going to a pub quiz at their local. The questions were really tough, but despite being up against a couple of full-time professional quiz-goers and a team of 16 equipped with I-phones we didn’t disgrace ourselves. We even knew that Roy Rodger’s horse was called Trigger. Shame we didn’t write it down.

While we were at Kim & Luke's we picked up a parcel that we’d had delivered to their house. We’d been very excited about getting this.
It’s called an Ecofan, there’s an electronic gubbins that turns the heat difference between the top and the bottom into a current to turn the motor. It’s fab. It’s eradicated all the hot & cold spots, and it looks pretty. We did look at these, which are powered by a Stirling engine, but unfortunately the 6”x3” base is just too big for our little Squirrel!

The latest project is to change the plumbing on the radiator that runs off the back boiler. Yes, that’s right, just as winter approaches. It’s not complicated though, for a reason so far unknown to mankind, the pipe leading to the expansion tank, instead of exiting from the highest point in the pipework comes from the lowest. So if the water boils (which is quite likely given that it’s gravity fed) a whole radiator full of water would need to go through the vent pipe before any steam could escape. In fact what happens is that about half a pint of water overflows from the expansion tank into the engine room before cooler water flows into the back boiler and it stops boiling. It’s still bloody stupid though. Today we drained the system and tomorrow we’ll get some new fittings from Screwfix and sort it out. That's something else done that was never on a list.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Oxford Canal. Nell bridge to Fenny Compton.

The Little Sewing Boat came down to Nell Bridge on Saturday morning. Chris & Cy got straight on with making a pattern on our front deck, while asking us what we wanted in the way of zips, windows and fastenings.
We’ve decided not to have any windows in the canvas; we reckon that we’ll have enough light with the big single window in the front. We’ll have two zips on each side and be able to roll either the doors or the sides up. The top plank is on a hinge at the back so during the summer we can roll the cover up, swing the plank back, and have a big open space again.
On Sunday and Monday they kept popping backwards and forwards between Legend and their workshop boat for fitting sessions, then on Tuesday they put all the hooks and poppers on the boat.
When we got back from the dentist on Tuesday it was all done and dusted. We are VERY IMPRESSED! The quality is outstanding and Legend looks fantastic. When we were deliberating about getting a cover made we looked at internet based companies that you send your measurements off to and we are very glad that we didn’t go down that road. Having watched the fitting process ourselves we are sure that without the actual boat to try it out on it would be impossible to get something to fit as well as this does. Legend is not perfectly symmetrical. Few boats, if any, are. The sides up to the bow are a double curve, the hand-rails finish ahead of the top plank and need to be worked round, and to top it all there’s a radio aerial in the way. All things that a set of measurements could never account for. Chris gave us a neat hole that fits over the aerial, elasticated cut outs that go round the hand-rails, poppers along the up-stand on the bow and all the hooks and straps in just the right positions to make it all neat and work properly. Yes we’ve gone on a bit, but we are very happy with it.

Fran, Sean, Harry and Phoebe came up from Portsmouth to see us on Monday. It was their first time on our boat and we had a lovely afternoon with them; we went over to the Pig Place then walked down to Aynho Weir lock and watched a couple of boats going through. Sadly we couldn’t take them boating due to the cover fitting, but they thought it was good fun and they’ve promised to come again.

You would have thought that having a new waterproof cover on the boat would have made our lives drier. Wrong. On the way from Nell Bridge to Banbury Ann-Marie, with a cry of “Not again!” left the boat unexpectedly. Twice in ten days; it’s becoming a habit. Dave got to go through a 9’ lock single handed while she was in the shower, and thankfully, once again no lasting damage was done.

Two days later we were going from Cropredy to Fenny Compton in a downpour that lasted most of the afternoon, so we were both soaking wet by the time we got moored up. Funny though, we still loved every minute of it.

Between wet sessions Karen, Andrew, Lauren & Ben came on board for the day. We picked them up in Banbury and had a sunny afternoon’s boating up to Cropredy. Andrew did a large chunk of the steering, going through several locks and bridges so Dave got to see legend from the bank for a change.
When we moored up we had a lovely casserole for tea that had been sitting on the Squirrel stove all day.

If this is our life now then we will not be asking for a refund.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Oxford Canal. Shipton-on Cherwell, Baker’s Lock, Pigeon Lock, Allens Lock & Nell Bridge.

It’s been very exciting just lately. First, John & Camilla came to see us at Shipton Wier and stayed overnight. We had a walk up to the nearby deserted village of Hampton Gay , then went down into Thrupp and turned round to begin our journey northwards.  
We’ve now gone as far south on the Oxford as we intend to; we’ll be heading in a generally northerly direction, with various meanders sideways, for quite some time to come. Until we get to Preston, in fact. John used to live on a narrowboat called Andante and he took the helm for the day; the first time he’s had his hand on the tiller in 10 years. Andante was the first narrowboat that we set foot on, and was one of the steps towards our life now, so it was nice to get John’s seal of approval on Legend, so to speak. We moored in Shipton-on Cherwell, just down from the church.

We finally got our act together and cycled the 7 miles down the towpath to the junction with the River Thames at Oxford.
We had a lovely day wandering around what is a truly stunning city, just as spectacular as any that we’ve seen on our travels.
All spires, parks & bicycles with a covered market to match anything in Europe. Of course the names of the colleges are familiar to us, and anyone who’s spent any time watching Bamber Gasgoine and Co., but it’s still slightly weird to be walking down a little city lane past the back door of “Queen’s College, Oxford”. And impossible not to do an impression.

We left Shipton, and stopped for two nights at Baker’s lock where we’d spotted a nice pile of ash wood. BW had done some branch lopping on the towpath so we carted all the decent sized stuff back to the boat, where we sawed and split it. Ash is the best stuff for firewood; it’s dense and long lasting. Both the side lockers in the well deck are now full of logs and there’s a load on the roof as well. It might last till spring, or it might not; either way it’ll save us money on coal. While we were there Dave got the paint brushes out again. There is now non-slip on both gunwales; however there doesn’t seem to be enough on the right one, as you will see…

As we were on our way from the top of Baker’s lock to the bottom of Pigeon lock, (there’s nothing in-between, so it should have been a gentle early morning cruise) we came across Nuneaton & Brighton; a working pair of historic boats. Normally this would have been a good thing, we love the sound, smell and look of the historic stuff, but not this time. They were coming towards us, both fairly well laden and Nuneaton, the motorboat, had run aground on a mud bank just before a winding hole. Brighton, the buttyboat, had run up alongside, which meant that the pair of them were effectively blocking the navigation. We pulled over on our side of the winding hole and Dave went to see if there was anything we could do. The skipper asked if we’d give them a tow, so we turned in the hole and reversed back to the motorboat; no mean feat in itself, what with all the silt. With Legend’s help Nuneaton cleared the mud bank where we let her free, then she crossed the winding hole and re-attached the towing line. With a big yank on the stretchy rope Brighton cleared the mud and with a wave of thanks they disappeared.
We were then facing the wrong way and had to once again turn round in a silted up winding hole. Half way through this palaver Ann-Marie was coming down the right hand gunwale with the centre rope in one and thought it would be fun to go swimming. Scream, Splash, Brrrr! Well one of us was going to be first; no doubt both of us will have a dunking before too long and all things considered, apart from the severe nettling as she climbed out, it could have been worse. The boat wasn’t moving, Dave could get off with a rope to help her out and she didn’t have far to swim. After a hot shower, apart from oozing adrenaline, she was back to her old self. It made us think though. If we’d been moving, if it had been the steerer, if there hadn’t been an easy bank to swim to, what then? A life-belt and a plan have become priority items.

At Pigeon lock Annie, Wiltz, Kim & Luke came to visit. In the afternoon we pulled the pins and took them up to Allen’s lock at Upper Heyford. We almost got caught out by the Autumn evening; by the time we got there, dusk had been and gone, the solar fairy lights were on and we could only just make out the banks. Boating at night isn’t exactly illegal but it’s certainly frowned on, especially by the bow-thruster types. As there were no spaces left we ended up half on the lock moorings, which is frowned on as well, but as we were going through the lock first thing in the morning we made an exception. After tea Annie, Kim & Luke went home and left Wiltz behind. He’s recuperating so a couple of day’s boating was the order of the day.
We sent Annie a ransom note written in news-print, telling her that we’d kidnapped her husband and that if she wanted him back she had to put her feet up, eat chocolate and watch a soppy film. The cruise from Allen’s Lock to Nell’s Bridge was so blustery and we had to stop at the pub at Aynho for refreshment. Oh dear, what a shame.

We’re now back opposite The Pig Place where we’re stopping for a week or so. Last week we contacted The Little Sewing Boat about a cratch cover. They have two boats; a live-aboard and a workshop and they move around the country doing upholstery repairs, new covers etc. How’s this for jammy? They could have been anywhere on the system, but they were at Napton heading south. A fortnight later they would have been past us on their way to the Thames. We should meet up with them in the next few days and, if the price is right, they’ll moor up next to us and make us a lovely new canvas cover. Somewhere to take our wellies off and keep the kindling dry.

Friday 7 October 2011

Oxford Canal. Shipton Wier lock.

After an astonishingly hot week, which everyone who came past our boat commented on, the weather is now much more what autumn should be. Bracing winds and occasional showers make boat painting a challenge, but we’ve managed to do what we set out to and have got red bits on both sides. We tried various methods of paint stripping and found, after wearing out several different types of discs, that this works better and faster than anything else for getting back to bare metal. Even so each side took two days of hard work, and Dave looked like he’d been coal mining each evening. It’s worth it though; smooth, bare steel makes the best start for a smooth, shiny finish five or six coats later.
Now we’ve taken the grotty non-slip rubberised stuff off the gunwales we’ve got to put something else on. What we’ll use is a fine silica product that mixes with the paint. We’ll mask off the edges of each gunwale leaving a strip down the middle and put a coat of that on, followed by another coat without the additive. That will leave a tidy, non-slip strip down each side that won’t deteriorate as it wears. Nice.

We learnt a valuable lesson this week. If you’re going to chuck your ashes under a hedge, do it in the morning when the stove has been out for several hours, especially when it’s windy. Luckily we noticed in time and with some frantic bucket work managed to limit the damage to some burned grass and scorched brambles. It was a bit scary for a while though and brought home to us just how isolated we really are when we moor out in the wilds. We’ll be a bit more careful in future.

Now that the weather is getting colder we are lighting the stove in the evenings. If we had any worries about being cold in the winter we haven’t any more. It’s 10˚C outside, in here it’s 27˚C with all the windows open, and tomorrow’s soup is bubbling away on a trivet. The log burner in the house was always kept around 250˚C to stop the chimney sooting up too much. If we get this one over 150˚C the back boiler starts bubbling and we end up in our underwear wafting each other with copies of Towpath Talk. Combine that with the gas oven and the varnish begins to peel off the ceiling. Of course sweeping the chimney is a lot easier on a boat so it shouldn’t be a problem.

On Tuesday we had a trip out to Portsmouth for the Pompey Puddleducks 2CV club’s 21st anniversary. Ann-Marie was the founder member so we got an invite. It was lovely to see that through the hard work of the current membership the club is thriving. Everyone seemed pleased to see us; we had a brilliant evening, won a pumpkin in the raffle, and had some delicious birthday cake.
We keep meaning to cycle into Oxford but so far haven’t had a free day when the weather has looked friendly enough. Dave spent 3 ½ hours wrestling with the ring road one morning and swore he was never going anywhere near it again, but we’ve been told by other boaters that access from the towpath is a different thing altogether, and that the city is just as beautiful as everyone says. We’ve got a free day on Sunday, maybe we’ll find out.

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.

Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...