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.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

South Oxford Canal. Cropredy to Aynho Wharf.

South Oxford Canal. Cropredy to Aynho Wharf.

Water, in it’s various forms, continued to play an important role in our movements as we slowly made our way south towards the River Thames.
While we were at Cropredy it snowed... after we'd completed a jigsaw...
...Dave planned how to make a box and tilting system for the new panel while Ann-Marie continued with the Great Spring Clear-Out, reducing what was stashed in our hobby drawers and cupboards by a third. When we sold our house and bought a boat we sold/freecycled/gave away loads of stuff; a whole house-full in fact, and the feeling of freedom that that gave us was incredible. Each spring since then we have tried to de-clutter some of the unnecessary stuff that has somehow found its way aboard, and we still get the same light, airy feeling from doing it.

After the snow we had a beautiful sunny day so we went for a walk along the towpath to Banbury and back...
...which proved to be a bit muddy and a bit far, necessitating a stop in a café for a spot of people watching.
Back at the boat, Dave took advantage of the break in the weather and got started on the new solar box. The idea with this one is to make it a slot together design, so that when we have to reduce our air draught it’s an easy thing to do. Like the first one, the panel also needs to tilt four ways to catch the winter sun so, as the hasp and staple idea has proved to be simple and robust, he’s doing that again. Unfortunately Screwfix’s cheapest hasps (which we used last time) have been reduced in size and strength, to the point that they’re not a patch on the originals and, although they might be ok for locking a small box with nothing of any value inside it, really weren’t up to supporting and securing a big solar panel. So, there are eight bigger, meatier (and cheaper!) ones on order online and a mark II version is in the pipeline.

While Dave was busy out on the bank Ann-Marie went for a walk round Cropredy village.

Although we moored in pretty much the same spot last time we were here, we didn’t really explore much, and it was really good to find out what a delight Cropredy is. Most people know it for the music festival, and we’d thought it was just the green and a pub plus a few houses, but there is quite a bit more to it, with some lovely little gennels to walk through and some interesting old houses as well.
When Ann-Marie got back she found a very sad Dave standing by the boat. While constructing the new box, he’d managed to drop his battery drill in the canal. Being made mostly of aluminium the sea-searcher magnet had failed to find it, as had numerous attempts with a hastily constructed fishing net. (Which he made by sacrificing the crayfish net, and then lost that as well.) So, a Good Day and a not so Good Day.
The ironic part is that only a couple of weeks previously the charger for said drill had started playing up so we’d claimed on the three year guarantee and there was a new battery and charger for it sitting at Karen’s house. Mind you, a dunk in the cut and a pound of canal silt in the gubbins would have killed it even if we had got it out. Time for a new battery drill. The joys of living by the water never cease.

January proved to be a rather expensive month. Try as we might we couldn’t seem to stop haemorrhaging cash. First there was the drill, then the genny packed up again and this time, despite Dave’s best efforts, refused to go again. However there was a silver lining to this particular cloud. Ever since our lovely, quiet, efficient Honda generator was stolen in Wigan we’ve been trying to make do with inferior substitutes and failing. But justifying £850 for a new Honda has just been too big a pill to swallow. So when Dave finally admitted defeat and went on-line to find another inferior substitute, he was surprised and delighted (if not a little suspicious) to come across a barely used Honda, nearby for £380. An exchange of messages put our minds at rest; it came with the instruction manual, the spare-parts/tools pack and a waterproof cover in a storage bag. Not the sort of package that would accompany a stolen one, and the chap had bought it for his caravan, then found that most sites won’t allow them and got a solar panel instead. In the end we bartered it down to £340. So once again, we’ve got a lovely, quiet, efficient Honda to charge our batteries when the sun don’t shine. And this time a big fat security chain and an equally big fat alarmed padlock ALWAYS attach it to either the boat or the Armco or a solid mooring ring.
Before leaving Cropredy, we did a relatively smooth and uneventful reverse back to the water tap (which, naturally, attracted no spectators whatsoever) then had a pleasant day boating to Banbury with a short stop on the way for one of Dave’s pre-wombled firewood stashes. There have been thin pickings on the south Oxford so far, there will be woodless days before long.
The first thing we did upon arriving in Banbury was to go to Wilko and buy a mouse trap. We don’t know how long we’d had our little stow-away, but he’d recently started making nests in the well-deck lockers and eating our bird seed and peanuts. We could have tried to encourage him to move out by removing the food source but that might have easily resulted in him moving inside the boat in search of an alternative. The mouse trap was unbelievably efficient. Within half an hour our boat occupancy was reduced from three to two. As a kind of tribute we had ratatouille for dinner.

On a noticeboard in Southam a few weeks earlier we’d noticed a flier for a panto. The Grange Player’s were staging Treasure Island & The Little Mermaid at the weekend and we went along on the Saturday. It turned out that between the local sweet shop and the internet they’d sold far to many tickets, so before the performance began, in an effort to free up some seats, they asked if anyone would take a refund and a free ticket for the Sunday show. We had nothing better to do so we volunteered. When we came back on Sunday the hall was half empty so we got better seats...
and because we’d given up our tickets the day before we got a free cup of tea in the interval. Like all Am-Dram productions it was a delicious mix of the brilliant and the confusing, with a constant steam of inaudible, corny jokes, and of course it was bottom-numbingly long, but the pirates were handing out chocolate coins when we turned up and we, along with the rest of the reduced but equally enthusiastic audience got to shout “OH NO IT DOESN’T!” and “HE’S BEHIND YOU!” at every opportunity, whether it was appropriate or not.

When we moved from Banbury we didn’t move far. On one of our walks down the towpath Dave had noticed a promising looking bit of woodland near Nadkey Bridge so we stopped there for three nights while he re filled the log box with most of a fallen Ash tree.

When we’d picked up our post from Karen’s the week before, as well as the better hasps mentioned before, it had included a little £20 ammeter from China that Dave had found out about from the 12 volt group, so while rain stopped firewood chopping, he wired it up to the batteries. It’s a 2 part meter, the main bit is a 300amp shunt which fits between the negative post on the leisure batteries and all the other negative connections. In other words, any current going in or out of the batteries, has to pass through it and be measured. The other part is a display unit that can be either connected to the shunt via a USB lead or, (and this is the best bit) connected via Bluetooth up to 15 feet away. And if that’s not far enough there’s a boost antenna available to increase the range up to about 50 feet. That means you can keep an eye on the batteries from the comfort of the settee. The display shows voltage, amps, watts, and crucially, amp hours in or out since the last reset. Unlike the big expensive “clever*” battery monitors that are usually found in narrowboat engine ‘oles and cost about ten times as much, it doesn’t have brain, it simply tells you how much electricity is either flowing into or out of your batteries.

With the log box topped up, we moved down to Twyford Wharf for a week where we found a lovely walk over the water meadow to King’s Sutton...

...fitted the new hasps and staples to the new solar box and made an under-panel cover for it.

While we had easy access to the car we went over to see Martin and Yvonne for a couple of days. We had a lovely time with them including a fabulous walk along the Orwell estuary.

We also had a trip down to Mum & Dads and went with them to see The Greatest Showman, which we all thought was brilliant. Ann-Marie now can’t stop singing the songs.

From Twyford Wharf we went to Nell Bridge with a couple of stops along the way. Firstly for one of our usual woodpile collections...
and then another stop to “rescue” a pair of bicycles. We’d noticed them in the canal when we’d been out walking so rather than just leave them to hinder navigation we did our bit and dragged them out.
They were both fairly knackered, but as one of them had an alloy frame we had thought it might be possible to resurrect at least that one, but on closer inspection they were both beyond repair, so we left them by the skip at Aynho. They’d gone the next morning so hopefully someone else had got some use out of them.
Because the forecast was for sub zero temperatures and we didn’t want to get frozen in without filling up with water, we changed our plans and moved the next morning from Nell Bridge to Aynho Wharf where the next tap was.
Legend had a very calm fortnight at Ayhno. We however, were zooming around all over the place. Firstly we went off to Bristol for a night with Anne, who’d decorated and illuminated the big lounge window in her new flat to take part in the Arnos Vale Window Wanderland.

In the evening, along with Anne and Ben, we walked round the cold streets admiring all the other windows before going back to the flat for dinner.

In the morning we left Bristol, had a quick stop at the boat to swap clothes and light the fire before heading off to the other side of the country to Bourne in Lincolnshire to join Bob & Mandy at Bourne Borderer’s annual ceildh. We had a fantastic night with loads of enthusiastic dancing then back to Mandy’s mum’s house for the night.

Next day we were off again, this time to the 40th birthday party of the 2cvGB club at Leamington Spa. We were among the first to arrive and it was fabulous to see all our old mates turning up in convoy after convoy of the funny little French car that brought us together over 20 years ago.
In the afternoon there was a lot of catching up to be done and a lot of birthday cake to be eaten.
On Tuesday we went for a frozen walk up to Aynho, over the fields to Souldern and back along a slippery towpath... 

just in time to get the kettle on before Anne dropped in on her way home.

And our travels continued the next morning. We drained the water pipes and left Legend surrounded by ice to spend a couple of days with Laura and Alison on Wenlock Edge.
We had only meant to stay for two nights, but after the first night we had to make a decision to either go and risk being caught out by the snow on the way home, or stay until it was all over. The vote was unanimous; we stayed. As soon as it was too late to change our minds the outside temperature dropped to -7°C and their water-pipes froze... until we dug our way out of their drive three days later we spent our time under siege conditions, melting snow for washing and flushing toilets, and drinking wine instead of depleting their remaining water supplies.

Two days later, with their drive cleared of deep snow, it was easy to back out to the main road. Once we were out of Much Wenlock we had a clear run home, although at several places on the way there was evidence of drifts, abandoned vehicles and other recent problems that lead us to believe we’d made the right decision to wait it out. It was lovely to get back to our primitive little off-grid life on board Legend with it’s warm bed and hot and cold running water.

After that Ann-Marie had a day working in Nottingham followed by a girly day out with Diane in Northampton. Then, when all the excitement was over and the ice had all gone, and once CRT had fixed the leaky tap, it was time to pull the pins, fill up the water tank and move on to Allens Lock.

While all this flying around the country had been going on we’d been waiting for a phone call or a message from Frankie to tell us that Thibault, our second grandson had arrived. She’d gone past her due date, and the day she’d been told she’d be induced was fast approaching, so we’d been careful to ensure we had a charged phone to hand 24/7. How anyone coped with an itinerant boat life before mobile phones is beyond us. The answer is that they probably didn’t. Twenty years ago living on a boat was a much bigger step away from society than it is for most people today. We’re sure it would be impossible to live the free, rootless life that we do and still be able to have the vibrant social network that we’ve got without all the 21st century technology that we surround ourselves with. 

*”Clever” monitors are notoriously quite thick when it comes to deciding when a battery is fully charged. They try (and fail) to estimate how much power is left in your bank, which can either lead to  batteries being consistently undercharged resulting in them becoming sulphated with reduced capacity, or to owners running engines or generators for far too long and wasting fuel. However, knowing how big the bank is, and knowing how much and how quickly power is going into it, is all the information you need to decide when to turn the generator or engine off, or indeed when you can use excess solar power to save gas by boiling an electric kettle or making the dinner in a slow cooker.

New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...