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.
We pulled our pins out of the ground this morning at seven o’clock and started the long slog through Cropredy. As we got closer to the village, we saw more and more people, many with bleary eyes, yawning as they walked towards one of the many places selling breakfast on the festival weekend. The first three locks were in our favour but by the fourth, we realised that we were following another boat. As a result, we had to turn the next four but as we made our way up the five at Claydon, we started to meet oncoming craft so progress seemed smoother. We reached the summit just before eleven, ten locks – not a bad morning’s work! We made our way to Fenny Compton tunnel and although we had to wait for a couple of minutes until another boat emerged from the narrows, we made good progress, only meeting one more boat on the way and at a section that was wide enough for two boats to pass. We next passed Fenny Compton marina and crept around the final bend before the visitor moorings came into view. As we reached the end of the fourteen day section, we saw a space but were unsure if Caxton would fit but we gave it a go anyway. It worked and it was the tightest fit we have ever managed with the front fender ” button to button” with the boat in front and the rear resting on the stern of the boat behind. If the bank had been straight it wouldn’t have worked because our fender would have lined up with the one behind and there just wasn’t the space for that. I tied the boat up but in all honesty, we were wedged in and probably didn’t need to.
We went straight to the Wharf Inn and had lunch by way of celebration, the meals being as good as they were a couple of days ago. Fed and watered, we returned to Caxton by way of the towpath – all 100 yards of it. Luckily enough, I had tied the boat up as the boat in front had gone and the one behind had moved forward a few feet so we were wedged in no more. I reconfigured our mooring lines and then we settled into our chairs on the front deck for another afternoon of relaxation.
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.
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
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.
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.
We awoke just after seven and got out of bed an hour later. Knowing that we would be straight on to the locks that would take us up the hill, Sue made me a bacon sandwich and sorted herself out with cheese and tomatoes on toast. Once fortified we were ready to go and so we untied and left Cropredy. The first three locks presented no problems and we were accompanied by a team of three workers cutting the grass along the towpath and around the locks themselves. We took a short break before we reached Claydon bottom lock because there was a lone locker ahead and we didn’t fancy the possibility of working all of the locks twice.
Half an hour later and it was time to go again and we had a great ascent of the Claydon flight, meeting a boat on the way down at each of the locks. The sun was shining when we reached the summit and so we celebrated our ascent with a beer and a glass of wine. The three miles or so from Claydon top lock to Fenny Compton went by very quickly and we were able to find a mooring between the marina and the Wharf Inn. We visited the latter establishment and had fish and chips for lunch – very nice!
After lunch we made a slow return to the boat and settled down for the afternoon, nothing too exciting today but a lovely relaxing day nevertheless.
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.
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.
It was cool and overcast when we got out of bed this morning. With just the summit to traverse there was no point in us both getting up and dressed so I got ready, untied and set off while Sue showered and made breakfast for us. Fortified by a round of bacon sandwiches each washed down with a cup of coffee we wound our way around the top of the hill and into Oxfordshire. The sun teased us now and again with a brief appearance or two but it was pretty cool in the easterly wind that blew across the summit on this early June morning. We passed through Fenny Compton and its ‘Al Fresco’ tunnel just after ten o’clock running behind a boat that had emerged from the marina there.
When we reached Claydon top lock the boat in front not only waved us through but then proceeded to help us with the paddles and gates. We followed a boat down the flight and as a result had to fill most of the locks behind them but nevertheless our progress was fairly rapid. We eventually reached the village of Cropredy just after one o’clock where we found a mooring just above the lock. After we had secured the boat and sat down for a few minutes we locked up and walked to the Red Lion just a few yards from bridge 152 below the village lock. We spent an hour in the pub garden with ‘Shandy’ the pub dog, a friendly and quiet canine companion who kept us amused for the duration of our stay.
We left the pub and returned to our mooring via the shop at bridge 153 and the annual music event opposite hosted by the local canoeing club. Sue quickly sorted out our evening meal, chicken breasts that had been marinating during the afternoon with couscous and vegetables. All that remained was for us to just sit and relax in the evening sun.