It’s now four weeks since we moved on board permanently and three weeks since my birthday, the day that we cast off on our six month adventure.
We decided to move on a bit further on Friday so after a lazy start to the day, we got underway around ten and continued our journey south. After passing through Kings Sutton lock and watching the spire of the village church disappear gradually behind us, we reached the M40 for the third and final time. I would have lost count of the number of times that I have passed over here on the M40, that’s if I’d ever been bothered to keep count in the first place. This point marks what should be the half way point between the Basingstoke office and our home in Hinckley. I say should be because that journey used to take anywhere between two and four hours. I almost always remembered to look down at the Oxford canal and sometimes there might just be a boat passing under Coles lift bridge. On this day, the boat passing through was called Caxton, crewed by two happy and carefree individuals.
The strong breeze was quite welcome as it helped to keep us cool on yet another hot day. We did the next two locks and managed to cross at both with northbound boats, surprising really because they were the only boats that we had seen on the move. After two hours travelling, we reached Aynho wharf where we took on diesel and water. We were undecided as to where we wanted to go next but after noticing that there were a couple of spaces beyond the road bridge, we moved there and tied up. It’s a 48 hour mooring and there are rings which are perfectly spaced for us.
It was almost one o’clock by the time we had tied up, the wind had dropped and the temperature seemed higher than the actual 25 degrees that it really was. The nearby Great Western Arms looked very inviting so off we went and took shelter in its cool interior. Of course they don’t just let you go in and sit down, they expect you to buy stuff from them and since they only sell food and drink, we had to buy some of that. We’ve eaten here three or four times over the years and never been disappointed; today was no exception.
We returned to Caxton and sat in the cratch for a while, partially shaded from the sun but still in the fresh air. The mooring here is a bit of a trainspotter’s paradise. Two main lines run parallel to the canal, the furthest away being at a higher level than the nearest so it has been possible to see passenger and freight trains heading north towards Birmingham and south towards Oxford on one line and London Marylebone on the other. A few boats passed in both directions and this one turned up.
The skipper, Peter Cole, pulled up next to us and told us that had had the boat for thirteen years and Had owned a narrowboat for eleven before that. He and his wife had covered most of the system before she passed away and it was at that point that he had swapped his narrowboat for this dinky little craft. We discovered, and later watched the process that I am about to describe, that Peter drags the boat in and out of the water every time he goes out. The boat has oars but is electrically propelled and is powered by three 12 volt batteries. The boat has a detachable bow which makes the craft short enough to fit in the back of Peter’s Volvo estate car. He has a short ramp to aid getting the boat in and out of the car and there is enough room to store the batteries at the sides. There are a couple of holes in the back of the boat which Peter pushes the oars through and this ingeniously allows him to use the oars like the handles on a wheelbarrow making the transition between car and ground and then ground and water, relatively easy. Peter is clearly well practised in the process which is a sort of Heath Robinson meets Thunderbirds affair, not bad for a seventy nine year old!
After our walk to Adderbury on Wednesday we were going to walk in the opposite direction and take a look at King’s Sutton. The temperature was already rising outside when we awoke at seven so we changed our mind and decided to get the bus to Brackley, a small town about eight miles away rather than walk four miles in the baking heat. There was no particular reason to go there except for the fact that it would be a new place to explore. The bus arrived at the road bridge just after midday, we boarded and paid the fare. The driver looked a little puzzled and questioned if we really meant to go to Brackley. The bus is a local one and most of the stops are request stops although the driver seemed to know all of the passengers and where they would be getting off. We passed through Kings Sutton, then the village of Charlton before arriving in Aynho. The driver stopped the bus and came to speak to us, explaining that although the service ran all day shuttling between Banbury and Brackley, this run turned around at Aynho.
The driver told us that he only did the lunchtime run and that he’d never picked up anyone from Twyford Wharf who had wanted to go to Brackley – well he wouldn’t, would he if he only drove the service as far as Ayno? I can’t really criticise, after all it was me who didn’t read the timetable properly! Anyway, he gave us three possible options, get off at Twyford, wait an hour and then get back on the bus. Stay on the bus and eventually get to Brackley via Banbury or just go to Banbury for the afternoon. We decided to go to Banbury – just for a change! It was alright though, we had lunch and a good walk around before getting the bus back to Twyford.
We saw Kings Sutton at least, pretty but not much there. We probably won’t ever get to Brackley but the driver assured us that there wasn’t much to see or do there anyway. In any case we had yet another lovely day in the May sunshine.
OK well not actually a sniper but a Snipe 2 satellite dish. When we bought Caxton there was a single feed (LNB) satellite dish mounted on the rear bulkhead which worked very well feeding a signal to a receiver inside. At home we ditched Sky a number of years ago and bought a Humax Freesat HD receiver / recorder. It seemed to make sense to move the Humax on board and upgrade the dish to a twin LNB which is needed to provide the ability to watch one channel and record another at the same time. We don’t really watch a lot of television and what we do watch tends to be recorded so that we can watch when it suits us and of course adverts can be skipped too. We don’t follow the soaps either so we don’t have to slavishly watch day after day either.
I decided to really go for the upgrade and get a self seeking satellite dish to save any messing around with alignment when we moored in a new area. There are a number of options out there but I chose the Snipe after consulting with Caxton’s original owner. Joe fitted one to his current boat and assured me that it was a worthwhile purchase. The Snipe isn’t cheap, around £730 in this country but I bought mine from a German Ebay seller for £620.
Installation was straightforward although a little time consuming. The first thing to do is to attach the mounting plate to the roof, I chose to stick it down with a silicon gasket sealant rather than to drill and bolt it. Next I drilled a hole in the roof before feeding the cables into the electrical cupboard below. The Snipe kit includes a cable entry box to give a weatherproof cover for the cable. I left the silicon to cure overnight before resuming the installation.
The snipe has three coaxial cables, two which carry the signal to the receiver and a third which connects to the control unit. The cables are very thin which is great in the sense that they take up very little room but it means that they are difficult to push through confined spaces. I already new that the signal cables were long enough to reach the receiver and the controller was going to be mounted in the cupboard so there was only the small matter of routing the two signal cables.
What a nightmare!
First of all I had to break a piece of plywood which was boxing in pipes and cables across the rear bulkhead. The right angle under a cupboard wasn’t too bad using a piece of conduit to pull the cables through. I pulled the fridge out to pull through and then fed the cables into the cupboard under the sink. So far so good but then it all became really difficult.
Now if you’re the sort of person who thinks that narrowboat living should be a simplistic affair, look away now!
The next obstacle to overcome was the tumble drier, no problem I thought until I attempted to pull it out of its space. There isn’t enough room! It must have been positioned before either the worktop went on or the units opposite were put in place. Whatever the case, there wasn’t enough room to get it out and gain access to the back. With the next unit being a dishwasher – yes, a dishwasher! – I was facing a major difficulty. Fortunately the existing aerial cable lies in the same channel so I thought that there should be a way to pull the cables through. I taped a spare piece of wire to the existing cable and pulled towards the back of the boat. Once the end appeared under the sink cupboard, I disconnected it and taped it to the end of the snipe cable and pulled it forward. It got stuck, presumably in the bulkhead between both of the appliances. I attempted the move four or five times before giving up and heading off to Maplin. I figured that the only choice was to cut the existing two coaxial cables in the cupboard under the sink, terminate them and attach the cables from the Snipe. After returning from Maplin in Nuneaton, I attempted to pull the cable back but it was stuck and wouldn’t move in either direction. Now i was fearful of breaking the cable or pulling the plug off the end since it is not a standard thickness cable. It didn’t help that I had to keep climbing past or over the tumble drier which sat half way across the galley. Suddenly, the cable was free and I assumed that the tape securing the cables had given way but as i pulled the coax forward, the Snipe cable came with it. I had achieved what I had set out to do and my trip to Maplin had been needless. I figured then that if I could get one cable through, I could get the second through and sure enough, twenty minutes later, both cables were in place. All that remained was to bolt the dish to the mounting plate, attach the cables and connect the controller to a 12 volt power supply. Since the controller sits inside the electrical cupboard, that was one of the easier parts of the installation.
Was it worth it? Absolutely! One button on the controller provides the power and gives a choice of satellites starting with the last one tuned to. Another button press activates the GPS controlled dish which then points, in our case, to the Astra 2 satellite. When it’s time to move on, another button press moves the dish back to a flat parked position.
So far we’ve only tried the dish in two locations and we know that it still relies on “line of sight” to work but it’s a convenience thing rather than a necessity. Having said that, it is a magnificent gadget to see in action!
The moorings above the lock in Cropredy are only for 24 hours so on Saturday morning we got up early, worked our way through the lock and landed on the service wharf. After doing the necessary, we started the relatively short trip to Banbury. There are only a handful of locks to do and by eleven o’clock we were tied up next to Spiceball park. The weather had behaved itself but as we walked into town half an hour later, we were caught in a heavy shower, umbrellas protected us until we were able to take shelter under the Tom Rolt bridge.
We had two days on the mooring before moving into Castle Quay for another two. The weather changed later on Saturday so we have been able to get plenty of walking done as we explored Banbury from side to side and top to bottom.
On Wednesday we had to move again, our allotted mooring time was up and we needed to fill the water tank again. By half past eight we had filled the tank and taken advantage of the filling up time to have showers and complete a cycle of the washing machine. Next on the agenda was a shopping stop at Morrisons before we untied for the third time in three hours and set off.
Despite the fact that we haven’t travelled much in the last few days, today’s trip was only as far as Twyford Wharf, an hour away from Banbury. On our previous trips down this way, there are numerous places that we just haven’t had the time to stop and visit but of course the rules are completely different now. Twyford Wharf sits on the road between Kings Sutton and Adderbury, both of which we want to explore. We decided to go to the latter today and made the half hour walk up the hill and over the M40. It has to be said that for the first half a mile or so there is no footpath, which isn’t ideal but it was still worth the effort. Sue laughed after we had crossed the main road in Adderbury when she saw that tucked away around the corner was the Red Lion and that we were on the wrong side! We both wondered if I was losing my touch, normally I can sniff these things out regardless of corners and blind bends. Normality was restored a moment later when we reached The Coach & Horses on our side of the road. The sun had been high in the sky as we walked to the village, only occasionally had we had some respite from the shade of an odd cloud or two so it seemed sensible to pop inside for a break and maybe a refreshment or two. Once inside we were met by the landlord who greeted us like we were long lost friends. We then noticed the food menu and decided to eat too. Follow the link above and take a look at the menu, yes those prices are real and up to date. The meals were really good, fresh veg accompanying the dish. The place was really busy, the phone kept ringing as customers phoned their orders in – they do a roaring takeaway trade and it’s not difficult to understand why. We enjoyed our meals – two main courses for £7.50!!!
We thought that we should be on our way and walk off some of our lunch before returning to our mooring so we carried on down into the village and visited the church. The main street is lined with houses and cottages built from the local yellow hued stone, some have thatched roofs which complete the charming scene.
The church is a beauty too, built from the same stone except heavily weathered due to the years it has been standing there. After wandering inside for a look, we walked all around the outside and saw that the surrounding graveyard contained mainly stones which were as weathered as the church itself.
It was still hot as we set off back to the wharf and although we did call in to the third pub in the village, The Bell Inn we gave the Red Lion a miss on the way back.
Tomorrow we’ll see what delights the village of Kings Sutton has to offer.
Last night’s mooring was great, very quiet and peaceful. When we awoke this morning it was raining again but according to the BBC the rain would give way to white cloud by eight o’clock and that would last until evening time. We decided to get up and go, destination Cropredy. We were on our way by 9:15am and heading for Claydon top lock. The rain drizzled down on us all of the way down the hill, it didn’t get too heavy but it didn’t go away either. The locks on this side of the summit leak badly so even when we had passed boats coming up, we usually had to fill each chamber. We were fortunate in meeting boats at a couple of locks which made life easier but generally we were on our own.
The Cropredy area was much easier to deal with by comparison to last August when we passed through and the music festival was on. The village moorings were mostly empty when we arrived and we easily found a space for Caxton. Sue quickly produced a couple of steaming bowls of home made vegetable soup – how does she manage this while we are travelling and locking???
After lunch, the rain eased off so we went for a walk around the village. We popped into the Red Lion and then the Brasenose Arms, both establishments passing muster. After calling into the canalside shop for a few essentials we walked back up the towpath and returned to Caxton.
Prior to leaving the boat I had lit the fire because there was just a feeling of dampness creeping in. On our return the cabin was lovely, warm and most importantly, dry feeling.
The soup had done its trick and kept us feeling full so we just had a sandwich each for dinner and called it a day.
As expected it rained all day on Wednesday, well until 6:30pm anyway. In contrast, we awoke to a bright sunlit morning this morning – oh how quickly the sunshine lifts the spirits. At 7am I walked to the village shop to buy some potatoes and butter and when I returned, there was already some activity around the bottom lock. NB Oakapple had just entered the chamber from above. We haven’t seen Richard & Sharon since we passed them near Hawkesbury in September 2014 . I had a brief chat with them both before once again, we went in opposite directions.
After returning to Caxton, we made our final preparations and set off. It was a glorious morning and ideal for locking, we just took our time and two hours later we had ascended the eight locks and tied up at Marson Doles for water. We had to tie on the lock landing because there was a CaRT boat tied on the water point but with so little traffic it wasn’t a problem.
As we were filling with water, nb Aileen Rose approached so I grabbed a windlass and helped them into the lock at Marston Doles. We were lock buddies in 2013 so it was good to see them again too.
Once we had filled with water, we were on our way across the lonely summit once again. We passed a few boats along the way but generally it was a quiet passage.
The sun continued to shine as we made our way towards Fenny Compton and we had hoped to find a mooring space there, however it was not to be and we had to pass through. An hour later and we found a place to tie up just above Claydon top lock. Sue had been preparing dinner along the way as well as baking oatcakes and making mackerel pate (how does she do that and still manage eight locks?) . So when we tied up, we ate and afterwards went for a walk into Claydon village. There’s nothing there except the church, the bygones museum closed a few years ago so it appears to be yet another “dormitory ” village in rural England.
We returned to Caxton after our circular walk of around three miles. Rain started falling about 7pm and it has continued ever since. Tomorrow’s forecast is for yet more rain so we’ll decide on our course of action ( or in-action) in the morning.
This is just a quick catch up on what we have been doing over the last week since our last post. We remained moored at the top of Hillmorton and caught the bus into Rugby where we did a bit of shopping and had a birthday lunch at Prezzo, courtesy of Rebecca, Don and the children. Thank you very much, it was delicious!
On Wednesday we untied and made our way to Braunston, blue skies had returned and with the very gentle winds to accompany us, our journey was very enjoyable. It was around one o’clock when we arrived at Braunston marina where had arranged to leave Caxton for a few days while we travelled to Hampshire for my retirement party. We found our temporary berth which was on the adjacent pier to the one that we used when we moored here permanently a few years ago. After wiggling our way into position with only inches to spare, we tied up and then went for a walk along the towpath to the tunnel. After a quick refreshment stop at the Admiral Nelson, we returned to the marina and paid our fees.
We had arranged to meet some friends who live in the village so after dinner on board, we trotted up to the Wheatsheaf for a couple of hours and had a great time catching up with them.
We were up and ready early on Thursday, despite it being Sue’s birthday. We needed to catch the bus into Rugby so that we could start our train journey to Winchester and that bus leaves the village from The Green so we had to climb the hill from Butchers bridge once again. When we first moored in Braunston, the village was well served by bus services running between Rugby and Daventry with some of them stopping on the A45 outside the marina. That ended and then the nearest stop was outside the Boathouse pub, also on the main road. Today, the hourly service only just touches the top edge of the village, stopping by the village hall. Judging by the small number of passengers on the bus, I wonder just how long even this service will remain in place.
Anyway, after the bus to Rugby we caught a train to Coventry and then boarded the Cross Country service to Winchester. We continued the birthday eating theme with afternoon tea at the hotel and very nice it was too. Winchester is a lovely place to wander around at any time but on warm spring days, as we had on Thursday and Friday, it was glorious. We rounded off the birthday week meal festival with lunch at Rick Stein’s retaurant which was perfect.
On Friday evening, I had my retirement bash in a Spanish restaurant in nearby Arlesford with colleagues from work, some of whom I have known for thirty years. We all had a good time and they even presented me with a leaving present – a Nikon DSLR camera. Once I get to grips with that, expect to see a more feature filled blog. There were many messages of good luck and some other personal gifts which will be cherished. All in all they gave me a good send off – thank you everyone.
Saturday dawned and we made the return journey to Braunston, re-tracing our route via Coventry and Rugby. It was after four o’clock when we got back and Sue used the evening and the fact that we were plugged into the mains to catch up with the washing and drying.
Our original intention had been to travel south on the Grand Union and return on the Oxford canal later in the summer. However, by the time we were ready to leave on Sunday morning we had decided to go the other way around. It doesn’t make any real difference to us which way we go but we were slightly concerned that there have been some predictions of drought and figured that we might be better crossing the summit of the Oxford sooner rather than later just in case low water levels start to have an effect on lock operations.
We turned left out of the marina and found a place to moor, halfway between the two bridges that carry the A45 over the canal and close to the two bridges that carry the towpath over the junction of the canal. We were surprised at just how empty the moorings are in Braunston but I suppose that it is still early in the season. The reason that we didn’t go so far was because the weather outlook for Monday was for high winds and lots of heavy showers. Sunday was still fine so we walked up and around the village, calling at the Chandlers and the village shop along the way.
The rain started in the early hours of Monday morning and continued on and off throughout the day. We did manage to get a walk around the village again during a dry period after dinner but the rain came again shortly after we returned to the boat.
And so to today, Tuesday. It was still windy but thankfully no rain, although there is a horrible outlook forecast. We took advantage of the relatively good conditions and set off in the direction of Napton, just after eight o’clock. Normally, this stretch of canal irritates me but today it didn’t because there are very few boats on the move and not many moored up either. What normally happens, usually on sunny, summer, Sunday afternoons is that as boats converge at Wigram’s and Braunston turns, convoys get formed. Lines of moored boats then force everyone down to tickover speed and the convoys become condensed. The real fun starts when two convoys meet at a bridge! Anyway, it wasn’t like that today and three hours after setting off, we were moored just above the bottom lock at Napton. After lunch, we took a walk to the village shop where Sue bought some provisions and then we returned to the canal. The rain started mid afternoon and the forecast is that it isn’t going to stop until Thursday morning so it looks like we will have another day here tomorrow. With a bit of luck, who knows, there might be a tiny break in the rain, a small window of opportunity to nip to the Folly for a pint before then!
So now the journey can really begin, we have no timetable to stick to, no set route to follow and very few restrictions to hamper us on our big adventure.
All Oaks wood provided us with a lovely overnight mooring but it was a bit dull and chilly when we got out of bed this morning. We want to be in Braunston sometime on Wednesday so although we have about six hours travelling to do, we have three days to do it in. With no real plans we decided that we may as well move on a bit today and see where ended up. It was almost half past nine by the time we were underway but in contrast to yesterday’s cruising dress code of T-shirt with occasional use of a fleece, today required golf jumper, fleece, hat and gloves. There was plenty of space at Newbold on Avon but the rings were just spaced slightly wrong for us and the ground was a bit soft for pins so we moved on. The Brownsover park moorings were full so we decided to carry on through to Hillmorton. There were hardly any boats on the move, it’s still early in the season I suppose, and this helped us negotiate our passage through Clifton wharf. Quite frankly, they are taking the p*ss by double mooring their boats from the arm right down to the bridge which is already on a blind bend. We didn’t meet anything this time but it would have been a different story over the weekend.
There was plenty of room to moor when we reached the bottom of the Hillmorton flight but we decided to get the locks done and find a space at the top, which we did quite easily. Tomorrow’s forecast is for thick cloud so we think that we’ll stay here and catch a bus into Rugby for the day. With that in mind, I walked into the village to check out the bus stops and times although I did find myself checking out a pint in the Stag & Pheasant too.
After yet another peaceful night’s sleep we awoke to blue skies again this morning. We were in no hurry to get going so we took our time and after breakfast we moved Caxton on to the water point just beyond the junction. While the fresh water tank filled, we emptied the cassettes and prepared for the next leg of our journey. It took a while to fill the tank due to the low pressure from the tap but eventually we squeezed the last few drops in and started to reverse back to the iron bridge and the junction with the Oxford canal.
Gongoozlers were already gathering around the bridge and around the Greyhound but we made the turn easily and so were of no interest to any of them. Sue had stayed on the bank and had already prepared the shallow lock by the time I had stuck Caxton’s bow under the cast iron bridge which spans the junction.
nb Dodona was waiting to enter the stop lock as we were leaving so it made for an easy transit for us as we had no gate to close behind us. From there on in we had a very pleasant cruise, the sun shone and the wind only just cooled us slightly as we made our way in a southerly direction. We have passed this way many times before and very little has changed over the years but sometimes familiarity doesn’t breed contempt and this was one of those occasions. It was around three o’clock when we reached the approach to All Oaks Wood and we found a very suitable mooring there.
After sorting ourselves out we locked up and made the three-quarter mile walk into the nearby village of Brinklow. Those who know Caxton will recognise that in a way, Caxton is at home here.
We found the local church close to the remains of Brinklow castle and climbed to the top of all that remains of the main mound of the Motte and Bailey castle. A full explanation of the construction can be found here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motte-and-bailey_castle
The view from the top was far reaching although too vast to be worth photographing, certainly with a phone at least. Descending the hill was probably trickier than the ascent had been but we managed both without incident and then we made our way back to the towpath where we found our boat awaiting.
After yesterday’s exuberance we decided that we would have a quieter day today. Following a leisurely breakfast we walked along the towpath in the direction of Coventry until we reached the Ricoh arena. We killed a bit of time over a coffee in Starbucks before catching a train from the nearby station and made the six minute trip into Coventry. Sue wanted to visit the nearby Hobbycraft store and while she looked at knitting related items, I checked out the art supplies. In contrast to the day before, this Saturday has been a cloudy and drizzly affair but it wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t walk around the city centre. Lunch was taken at one of our regular haunts, The Establishment and we weren’t disappointed although it was rather busy and noisy today because there were a number of Saracens rugby fans there on their way to the match against Wasps at the Ricoh arena. A little more shopping after lunch followed and then we made our way back to the station and re-traced our steps back to our mooring at Hawkesbury.
Unlike yesterday when the blue skies ensured that the solar panels charged the batteries to 100%, today’s thick cloud prevented a repeat so we ran the engine for an hour to keep them topped up.