On Saturday morning we were woken by heavy rain but by the time we had sorted ourselves out, the sun was out and so we decided to move on from Aynho wharf. There was no particular reason behind the decision, we just thought it would be a good thing to do.
This trip has been defined by its lack of having an itinerary to follow, the only big decision that we make each day is whether to move or stay where we are and that’s only important because if we stay, we heat the water for a shower and if we move we let the engine heat the water and we shower after we tie up. We can survive about ten days before we have to worry about toilets and fresh water so there is no pressure to move every day or every other day for that matter.
After leaving Aynho, we travelled for two and a half hours covering five miles and passing through three locks before finding a quiet mooring between Upper and Lower Heyford. After securing Caxton and then making ourselves presentable to the outside world, we walked along the towpath to Heyford station, three quarters of a mile away. A few days earlier, Sue had broken the frame on a pair of her glasses so we thought that it would be a good idea to travel to Oxford and find Specsavers, leave the glasses with them and then collect when we arrive by boat – whenever that might be. The train only takes fifteen minutes to make its way to Oxford and it didn’t take long after we arrived there to find Specsavers. Luckily enough, the frame style is still available so the repair could be done there and then by swapping the lenses, all we had to do was to leave the old ones and return an hour later and this we did.
We hadn’t been too interested in spending time in Oxford as we knew that we would have plenty of exploration time once we had landed properly so after the repaired HD equipment had been collected, we returned to the station. We had a bit of time to kill and who should we bump into on the platform but none other than ex Prime Minister, David Cameron. Of course you can’t really bump into him because if you did, one of the burly body guards who accompany him would no doubt make mincemeat of you. So we passed him by, he looked aloof as usual and walking remarkably upright for a man with no backbone.
We were back on board our boat by five o’clock and then we just sat outside and watched the world go by from the comfort of the front deck.
Sunday dawned, bright and blue and with the big decision of the day being to stay, we took our time and got showered, dressed and breakfasted. By mid morning we were ready to start our daily walk which on this day would take us back along the towpath to Allen’s lock, up the hill to Upper Heyford and then along the main road to Lower Heyford. It was a beautiful day and not too hot for walking either so we were able to keep up a good pace all along the route. Both of the villages are very pretty with many stone built houses and cottages but being the Sunday of a Bank holiday weekend meant that the narrow streets were full of cars which somewhat spoil the image. By the time we reached The Bell in the market square at Lower Heyford we were in need of a refreshment so we popped in for a drink before carrying on to the wharf where we had lunch at Kizzie’s Bistro. We sat outside and ate in the garden overlooking the canal, quite idyllic! After lunch, it was back to Caxton where we did a few chores before settling in for the evening.
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.
Despite our long day yesterday we awoke just after six and saw the sun shining. It was too much of a draw for us so we decided to get up and go but not until after we had topped up our water tank and dumped our rubbish. It didn’t take long and we were underway by half past seven, cruising once again in the early morning sunshine. We were extremely lucky with the locks and that meant that our trip to Banbury only took three hours. The weir lock didn’t present a challenge and the following lock, Nells had a paddle open so it was only a matter of opening the bottom gate. When we got to Kings Sutton lock there was a boat already in the lock travelling down which again made it easy for us. Grants lock was empty and dry and that only left the lock in Banbury at Castle Quay. As we approached the town centre we passed a boat which had only just left the lock so it was only a matter of opening the gates, this being the first of the locks with two narrow bottom gates on the Oxford canal. Once we were up and through the lock, Sue opened the lift bridge and we found that we were able to moor in exactly the same spot as we had a week earlier. Once we were tied up we walked into town and had lunch before doing some shopping and then returning to the boat.
The wind prevented us testing the validity of the 52’ winding hole in our 52’ boat so we dropped down through Isis lock, winded and came back up through it on to the canal. The church clock at Jericho chimed out eight times as we passed the place where we had been moored for the last two days. With boats breasted up outside College Cruisers wharf it made for a careful exit from the area but despite the wind we made it unscathed. We caught up with an inexperienced crew who had picked up a hire boat from Jericho the previous day and had moored on the lock landing above Wolvercote lock. We followed them to Dukes lock after opening a swing bridge for them along the way. They kindly let us go before them into the lock after Sue pointed out that they were filling the chamber instead of emptying it.
We thought about stopping at Thrupp for the day but there were no available mooring spaces so we carried on and soon reached Shipton weir lock where we caught up with nb Beaujolais. We shared the lock and followed them out of it and on to the river Cherwell. We caught up with them again at the next lock where they were waiting behind a day hire boat but it all worked out and we were soon up and through back on to the canal again above Bakers lock.
We thought about stopping at Enslow wharf near the Rock of Gibraltar pub but we had no luck there either. Shortly after, the heavens opened and the rain hammered down. A short piece of piling in front of bridge 214 by the golf course near Kirtlington looked too inviting to pass. It had obviously been too inviting for nb Beaujolais too as they were already tied up and doing what we were about to do – have lunch. An hour later we were fed and watered so with the rain almost finished we set off again hoping that the worst of the day’s showers were over.
We reached Lower Heyford where there were plenty of mooring spaces but most of them just a bit too close to the railway line. When we reached Allens lock we met another boat on its way down. This wasn’t really unusual today as we had met enough boats on the way to make our passage through the locks less strenuous than it might otherwise have been. The crew of nb Dove consisted of a couple in their sixties, the lady at the tiller and the gent on lock duty. When he tried to push the lock gate the wrong way he explained to Sue that he was just testing it because some gates got locked by the water —hmmmm! He then tried to climb back on his boat at the foot of the lock but somehow managed to dip his foot in the canal, no doubt testing the water too!
Time was getting on by now and we still had no place to moor but with the prospect of a short hop into Banbury on Sunday a real possibility, we were happy enough. It was still windy but it wasn’t cold and the sun was shining. I set myself a target, an ambitious one I admit, well actually a bloody reckless one but it seemed funny at the time. Most boaters would say that the best time to land at a prime mooring is mid morning and we have found that to be right. My target was to moor at Ayno wharf and have a drink in the Great Western Arms, Sue laughed and I can’t say that I blame her since we were about eight hours after prime mooring time. Needless to say there were no spaces on the visitor moorings so I’m afraid that I had to cheat and moor on the shop mooring space. If we’re still here when the shop opens in the morning we’ll buy the diesel that we need, otherwise it’ll be so long and thanks for your hospitality. So I got the mooring but did I get my pint? Well, no I didn’t. I did go to the pub to see how busy it was but it was full and it wasn’t full of boaters and especially not scruffy ones who had been boating all day. So I guess that I technically succeeded in reaching my target but with a cheated mooring and with no more than a foot on the pub doorstep I probably fell short of it.