On Saturday morning we left our mooring near Aristotle bridge, moved down to Isis lock and dropped down on to the river Thames. Once clear of the lock, the route to the river ‘proper’ is a tricky one but we pushed around the 180 degree bend, slid through the narrow channel created by the now redundant railway swing bridge and under the mainline railway bridge before turning left on to the main channel. As Osney Bridge came into view a few minutes later, we could see that there were spaces available on the East Street moorings so we pulled in and tied up. Hardly the longest of cruises but it would give us a few more days in Oxford. The Environment Agency (EA) are responsible for the Thames and they also manage the popular mooring areas including East Street where the first 24 hours are free and then the next two nights cost £5 each. The payments can be done online so we paid our £10 using paypal and settled down until Tuesday.
We used our three days to wander around the city centre as we have done on a number of occasions before. It’s a lovely place even though it is very busy with tourists who are exploring the historic university town. It would be near to impossible to write a comprehensive travel guide to Oxford so I am not even going to attempt it here.
The boat moored behind us had been let on airbnb to half a dozen young people, a nice little earner for the boatowner at £120 a night. Accommodation probably is expensive in the city but visitors should take a look at the Youth Hostel Association (YHA). Their building in Oxford is a modern one and is next to the railway station and whilst their cheapest rooms are small dormitories, they also have family rooms and en-suite doubles.
Boats came and went during our stay on East Street but one local inhabitant, a heron, could be seen every day patiently waiting on the weir under the bridge for a tasty meal.
After a peaceful night below Kidlington Green lock, we decided to press on and complete our journey to Oxford. It was straightforward enough, a couple of lift bridges to raise and two locks to pass through before we reached our destination, the visitor moorings near Aristotle bridge. After we had showered and changed we took a walk into the centre via the Oxford yarn store which coincidentally was (almost) on our route. Our circular route brought us back to our mooring by walking the towpath from the end of the canal.
We decided to go the opposite way the following morning as we had a few bits of shopping to do and we were back on board for lunch by noon. The sun came out in the early afternoon so we decided to go for a walk, this time heading away from the busy streets of the city centre. A few hundred yards away, the road crosses the railway line and as we approached we saw an incredible sight in the distance, a steam train was approaching, as it came closer it was clear to see that this was a bit of a superstar, it was the Flying Scotsman.
The train was gone in a few moments but luckily enough, Sue had her phone to hand and got a couple of shots. We then carried on to Port Meadow and continued our walk to Fiddler’s Island and then on to The Perch at Binsey.
A wedding reception was being held in a marquee in the garden of the pub and the guests arrived in a vintage double decker bus.
Once we had refreshed ourselves at the Perch, we decided to visit a nearby farm which was selling fresh strawberries and asparagus. We had just been talking about how lovely it was to be away from the crowded streets and how good it was to walk down a traffic free country lane knowing that the nearby A34 would be its usual Friday afternoon self. No sooner had we said this than three fire engines passed us, blue lights flashing, heading in the direction of the pub. This puzzled us because we had left the small hamlet of Binsey just minutes before and nothing seemed out of place. We decided that perhaps this was some sort of back route avoiding the mayhem of the A34. Once we had bought our farm produce, we retraced our steps and found that the fire engines were parked near the river and were in the process of launching a rigid inflatable boat.
It turned out that there had been reports of a cow in the river and the firemen were out to rescue it. They didn’t find it, presumably it had climbed back out again. We took a slightly different way back across the meadow and eventually found ourselves near the railway station, by the time we got back we had walked a total of ten miles during the very eventful day!
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.
Today was our day of rest in Oxford, well a non-boating day anyway. We started our wander around the city of dreaming spires with a walk to the castle which dates back to Saxon times. The castle eventually became a prison and remained so until 1996. Today it is a luxury hotel surrounded by restaurants and gardens, just a short walk from the city centre it is well worth a visit.
We bought some postcards and retreated to the nearby Wetherspoons where we had coffee while we wrote our messages. A light breakfast followed the coffees and by midday we were back outside posting the cards before doing some more sightseeing. There are many small specialist shops in Oxford that are related to the university and its affluent population so it makes it an interesting place to wander around.
We found ourselves outside the ‘Eagle & Child’ pub the regular meeting place of the ‘Inklings’ a group of writers that included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis who knew it as the ‘Bird & Baby’. We made our way inside and found a seat in the ‘Rabbit Room’, the actual place where those esteemed writers used to meet. We sat in the small alcove on the right of this picture and soaked up the atmosphere.
We returned to the boat and had a late lunch, it was a delicious homemade quiche accompanied by handmade coleslaw. Sue slaved over the cooker while I slaved over a jigsaw and all the time the engine worked hard to charge the batteries and heat the water.
After all of that was over we went for a walk along the riverbank down past Osney lock and island and on to folly bridge before returning to the city centre. It was after seven o’clock but the streets were still busy with students and tourists. Many of those tourists were students here themselves once and have returned to reminisce with friends and family. Our evening walk was concluded as we walked back along the towpath to our mooring.
Another peaceful night over, we got up at seven and were underway by eight o’clock. The weather was dull and grey but dry as we left our mooring in Thrupp nevertheless we had an easy cruise down through the lower reaches of the Oxford canal. As before, the last few miles were quite frustrating with so many permanently moored boats and difficult to close lift bridges to negotiate along the way. We made it though and reached our mooring opposite the hire base just before half past eleven. As soon as we were ready, we walked to the end of the cut and wandered into the city. We had a light lunch in the ‘Wig & pen’ before touring the indoor market and checking out a few shops. Eventually we had what we needed and then returned to our mooring where we settled for the evening. Tomorrow we will spend the whole day in the city and start our journey back on Saturday.