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Banbury

Inescapable Banbury

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.

Banbury & Adderbury

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.

Our mooring in Castle Quay, Banbury.

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.

St Mary’s Church, Banbury.

This fine lady rides her cock horse at Banbury Cross.

This fine lady adorns a wall in Butchers Row, Banbury.

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.

A typical house in this part of Adderbury.

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.

The view from our mooring at Twyford.

Tomorrow we’ll see what delights the village of Kings Sutton has to offer.

A bit of boat cleaning to round the day off.

Breakfast at Tiffanys

Yesterday we went to Oxford by train, it took twenty minutes and cost us £6.20 return each – bargain! We had a wander around and eventually, Sue found a yarn shop. Handily enough it was in a lovely little side street with a pub opposite so while she browsed, I sat across the road and enjoyed a pint in the sunshine. Well, two actually because it was a very interesting shop that needed some dedicated investigating apparently.

The Yarn shop that needed to be investigated

The Yarn shop that needed to be investigated

The "man-creche" across the road

The “man-creche” across the road

The spoils of war!

The spoils of war!

We’ve been to Oxford on many occasions so we weren’t too bothered about trying to do all of the touristy things. As we walked back towards the station, we became aware of a major fire, streets were being closed and traffic diverted. Soon we could see a huge amount of smoke which was filling one street, making it impossible to see more than a hundred yards. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-37047141

Smoke filled street

Smoke filled street

The excitement didn’t end there because as we waited on the platform for our train, four police officers ran past us, presumably chasing someone. We didn’t witness the outcome because our train arrived and we got on it. At four o’clock we were back in Banbury and heading for our mooring, too much excitement in Oxford for us. That was it, we settled down for the evening and then went to bed.

This morning, we moved Caxton down into Castle Quay and then went shopping but not before we treated ourselves to breakfast at Wetherspoons, this is just like breakfast at Tiffanys but at a fraction of the price. The visit to M&S yielded a couple of meals for two for a tenner – including a bottle of wine. We decided to leave Banbury and head for home so once we had everything on board, we untied and chugged towards the lift bridge and then the lock. The winding hole below Banbury is the best part of a mile from Castle Quay and for most of the way the towpath is lined with moored boats so it was slow going there and back. Two hours had elapsed by the time we escaped the clutches of Banbury but when the sun is shining, who cares? Our plan was to get as close to Cropredy as possible without going so far as to have to carry on through what has become “tickover alley”. We moored just below Slat mill lock and although further investigation revealed that we could have gone through it, there was only one space above and then the long line of boats begins.

We had dinner at four and then walked along the towpath to Cropredy passing a few trading boats along the way. The festival seems to take place all around the village and there are many stalls selling food, clothes and memorabilia. The village shop was doing a roaring trade having cleared most food from its shelves and replenished them with beer and wine. Both pubs in the village appeared to have staged their own mini festivals and again were very busy with the graveyard opposite the Red Lion being used as a beer garden. Hmmm! Not sure how I feel about that. Anyway, it seems like the whole village is cashing in on the festival and why not?

We returned to Caxton a couple of hours later having enjoyed our wander around, at the very least we managed to get a walk of around three miles in and that was the main thing. We plan to be on the move early tomorrow and get through tickover alley before anyone else is on the move.

Another early start

We were up and away just after seven again this morning with the intention of getting through the narrow section that is all that remains of the old Fenny Compton tunnel before boat traffic started building up. We were successful and were on the approach to Claydon top lock an hour later. The air was cool as we travelled but the sun kept peeping through the clouds and bit by bit, the air warmed up for us. Our run down the five Claydon locks was swift and straightforward as they were all in our favour and there were no other boats around. We were assisted at one lock by a couple who were camping nearby and after that, we started to meet boats heading for the summit so our progress was improved. We had a vague notion to stop near the village of Cropredy for no other reason than it would leave us with a short-ish run into Banbury tomorrow but our plans had to be revised when a boater that we met, informed us that the annual Fairport Convention festival was starting and that there was mile after mile of moored boats in and around the village. She wasn’t wrong either so it was tickover all the way for about three miles or so. We decided to top up the water and by the time we reached the Cropredy service wharf, the Rose narrowboat that we had followed down through the village lock had winded and was taking on water too. We breasted up to it and while we waited, we chatted to the holiday makers on board. As they moved off, we moved in and started filling our own tank. In the meantime there was a steady stream of boaters with all sorts of water containers turning up to get water, all of them afraid to move their boats in case they lost their mooring. An hour had passed since  we had stopped but we were finally on our way again, passing the seemingly never ending line of narrowboats moored to the south of Cropredy. Along the way, we saw nb Derwent6 complete with crew, Del and Al. We used to read their blog when they wrote it and although we haven’t met them before, we had a brief conversation with them as we passed by. Suddenly, the line of boats ended and normality was restored, leaving us with just over an hour’s cruising to get to Banbury. We were a little concerned in case we wouldn’t be able to find a mooring but we needn’t have worried as Banbury was almost devoid of boats. We tied at the beginning of the visitor moorings adjacent to Spiceball park but we could have had the pick of spaces from here to the lift bridge at Castle Quay. We had a late lunch or maybe it was an early dinner but whatever it was, it wasn’t a pub meal! After we had eaten, we walked into Banbury and did a little bit of shopping before returning to Caxton’s mooring. We sat in the cratch for a while and relaxed as the aroma of bread and roasted coffee wafted on the breeze from the Fine Lady bakery and the Kenco factory respectively. We became aware of a strange noise coming from the trees on the other side of the canal and soon, Sue spotted where it was coming from – it was a squirrel! Now I can’t say that I’ve ever heard a squirrel make any sort of noise before but there was no doubt that this one was making itself heard. An internet search revealed that this could have been a young one calling for its mother, an adult calling for its mate or sometimes if they spot a predator, squirrels will make a noise to let the predator know that they have been spotted. After a while the squirrel moved off and the noise stopped, by that time the air had cooled down again so we retreated to the comfort of the lounge and settled in for the night.

An eventful day

There are many times when I write this blog that no matter how long we’ve travelled during the day, nothing of note actually happens. It was very different in the early days because we were seeing and experiencing many things for the first time. Once you understand how ducks mate and then bring up their young and you know how a heron behaves when a boat enters its territory it’s not worth writing about. Of course you still see nature at work and it is still a wonderful spectacle but it becomes a bit repetitive when it comes to keeping a journal. It’s easy to resort to reporting the mundane things like filling the water, emptying the toilet and running a washload. That’s the funny part really, the boating lifestyle appeals because it is easy going, stress free and slow moving. For the journalist, desperation sets in, the desire to write about events on days when nothing much happens leads to a boring account that could have been copied and pasted from any other day.

Then you get days like today when there are a number of little events happen, none of them earth shattering in themselves but enough to give the amateur blogger something to write about. The day started off fairly unremarkably with a late and lazy lie in for both of us, it was raining and that seemed like a good enough excuse. When we did eventually get up we walked into town and had breakfast before doing some last minute shopping in Boots and M&S. It didn’t take us long to get organised once we had returned to the boat and we were soon on our way to Sovereign wharf where we took on some diesel. Leaving Banbury behind we were soon out in the countryside and at the first lock of the day. We had passed under the motorway and were in our usual quiet rural environment when we heard some sort of strange mechanical noise, it was the wrong side of the cut to be a train and it was getting too loud too quickly to be farm related when suddenly it appeared, a prop driven military aircraft flying at about 200 feet above our heads.

Later as we approached Cropredy we met a Calcutt hire boat at a bridge, he was travelling too fast of course but worse than that he was being followed by another member of the Calcutt fleet who was so close that it looked as if he was being towed by the lead boat. We pulled up and let them pass on the wrong side, shaking our heads as we went. The run in to Cropredy from the south is long and arduous as one passes moored boats for almost a mile. We saw a black cat walking along the towpath with a young rabbit in its mouth, no doubt taking taking its catch back to its home on one of the boats. Unfortunately this meant crossing another cat’s territory with the result that it had to drop the rabbit which until now had been limp and lifeless. As soon as it was free, the small rabbit sprang back into life and ran off leaving the two cats to argue it out between themselves.

As we had been preparing to leave Banbury we had been passed by the four old people on the college cruiser hire boat that we had met on our way out of Oxford on Saturday morning. We had briefly caught up with them at one of the locks but by the time we were on the final approach to Cropredy we spotted them attempting to turn at the wharf. According to one boater that we passed, they had been at it for half an hour, a bit of an exaggeration but they had made it difficult for themselves by shoving their stern rather than their bow into the winding hole.

We pulled up on the landing below Cropredy lock and I went to have a look to see what was happening. nb Mey from Clifton wharf in Rugby was rising in the lock and a Napton Elite hire boat was approaching from the other side. The Napton boat had a large crew who proceeded to tie their vessel very securely to the wooden posts above the lock or as the skipper of Mey said, “Looks like they’re tying up the Ark Royal!”.  As the Napton boat approached the lock, one of the crew explained that this was their first narrowboat holiday and that they had chosen the boat because it had three bathrooms with the result that they had ended up with a seventy footer. In fairness the steerer did an excellent job of getting the boat into the lock although the crew had little urgency in working the paddles. The group of fifty-somethings were looking forward to replenishing their water supply before finding a mooring and then going to the pub, the steerer said that he was in need of a drink and I think that he probably deserved one!

We worked our way up through the lock and found ourselves a mooring in a prime position, the first one after the lock landing area. We secured Phoenix III on the rings there and then took a walk to the Red Lion for a cold beer and an equally cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Once our break was over we walked to the shop and bought some more beer and wine to keep us going over the summit in the coming days.

On our way back up the towpath we passed nb Moonshadow tied on the lock landing, Sue noticed a colourful teapot on board and remarked on how pretty it was. When we reached the lock we met the lone skipper whose name we discovered was John and Sue complimented him on his pretty teapot. “You should have taken it.”, said John, laughing. We dropped our shopping off back at the boat, grabbed our windlasses and returned to the lock to assist John through it. He surprised us by presenting Sue with the teapot explaining that he had bought another one to replace it just the previous week. A moment later and Sue had almost kicked the teapot into the lock by accident but luckily enough she didn’t so now Moonshadow John’s teapot has been cleaned up and has taken up pride of place on top of our Boatman stove.

All that was left for us to do was to get the chairs out, pour a drink and watch boats work their way through the lock. There was nothing dramatic or exciting to report about the comings or goings, we chatted to one or two of the crew members and also to some walkers on the towpath most of whom were boaters themselves. We had our evening meal on the back deck before the air started to get a little chilly at which point we retreated to the lounge of Phoenix III for the evening.  On a day when we had made one of our shortest cruises we seemed to have had one of our busiest days.

Back to Banbury

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.

An early dart out of Banbury

We awoke at five for no reason particularly and then couldn’t get back to sleep. At half past six we gave up trying, got dressed and moved Phoenix III through the lift bridge and on to the water point. Having spent the whole of Monday moored at Castle Quay we were in need of all facilities so we did what was necessary and were on our way by ten to seven.We passed a hire boat from Braunston as we exited the lock so that made things easy for us. Needless to say there weren’t many boats on the move at that time of the morning but we made our way peacefully through the light drizzle of the grey June morning anyway. With two miles to the next lock Sue immediately got cracking in the galley and rustled up a couple of bacon sandwiches made with the cheese and onion artisan bread that we bought on Sunday at the Banbury show. Fuelled by our high octane breakfast we made easy work of the locks and miles heading south on the Oxford canal. We caught up with a couple of boats heading in the same direction as us but our waiting time was minimal and by the time we reached Aynho weir lock there were boats travelling in the opposite direction.

We reached Upper Heyford at one o’clock and decided to stop, finding a mooring just above Allens lock. We have travelled through here a few times before but never visited the village so we locked the boat and went to explore. Upper Heyford is one of those dormitory villages with nothing much to offer except a post box and a pub and even that was nothing special, we had a drink and then walked back down to the canal where we’ve settled for the day. There’s no internet at this spot but we can get television, tomorrow we will move on to Thrupp, we’re planning an early start but you can guarantee that we’ll sleep late instead!

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross

After a peaceful night spent at Cropredy we got up and made our way to the village lock. We dropped down through it and then crawled to the facilities station at Cropredy wharf where we carried out the necessary duties. Water filled and waste emptied by a quarter past eight we headed off in the direction of Banbury.

On our way out of Cropredy we passed by Steve Haywood’s boat “Justice” and vowed to stop and harass him on the way back.

It’s only a short hop and we reached Spiceball park without encountering any moving boats along the way. We tied up and then paid a short visit to the fair in the park, it was quite early but we took the opportunity to buy some artisan bread before we walked into town, briefly stopping at the boat to drop off our purchases. We wandered around Banbury, stopping off for a few hours in the local Wetherspoons of course before walking back to our mooring. We saw that most of the area around Castle Quay was empty so we untied Phoenix III and moved her down into the town. The sun came out and we sat out on the back deck for the rest of the day until finally it sank in the western sky.

September 2017
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