We left our mooring below pigeon lock on Wednesday morning with Thrupp in mind as a place to carry out our services. In an ideal world we would have liked to find a mooring in Thrupp but since it is a popular place, not only did we hold out little hope, we just didn’t factor in a stop there at all. On reaching Bakers lock where the canal joins the river Cherwell, we noticed that there is a new electronic indicator board showing the state of the water level on the river below. This is an improvement on the simple red/amber/green marker system because it is lock-side rather than out of sight, below the lock. Unsurprisingly, the level was in the green and we were good to go. It’s a twisty section of waterway with some tight bends but it is not for long and soon we reached Shipton weir lock where we parted company with the Cherwell. A few minutes later and we reached the approach to Thrupp and the long line of moored boats. We were pleased to see that the service wharf was free although no sooner had we tied up on it than a boat came through the lift bridge and pulled up behind us. They too had wanted water but seeing that we would be a while, decided to visit Annie’s tearoom for breakfast. While the water poured into Caxton’s cavernous tank, I took a walk around the corner on the off chance that there might be a space to moor for a day or so. I was amazed to discover that there was one last space, big enough for us, at the end of the seven day moorings. The tank seemed to take an age to fill but ‘our’ space was still there when we finally moved around the corner and under the lift bridge. We were secured to the bank a few minutes later, utilising the rings provided with a couple of our pins added as springs fore and aft.
We decided to stay in Thrupp for as long as we could, with our water supply probably being the limiting factor. The nearby village / town of Kidlington, which is probably classed as a suburb of Oxford, is only around 1.5 miles away and provided us with a good walk most days. The high street in Kidlington has a Tesco, Co-op and Iceland as well as a number of smaller shops which have provided the rest of our everyday needs.
Thrupp itself is tiny but around the canal there are a number of businesses; Annie’s tearoom, The Boat inn and the Jolly Boatman pub. We visited all of them in the week that we were there and they were all good in their own way.
Another business which was there temporarily was the Jam Butty boat so not wishing to let the opportunity pass, we bought some chutneys from them and very good they are too. I had a chat with Andy or Captain Ahab as he is sometimes known. Coincidentally, he has also just taken early retirement and like me isn’t missing work at all!
In addition to our almost daily walks to Kidlington, we also found time to walk to Shipton on Cherwell and to the abandoned village at Hampton Gay where all that remains now is a ruined manor house and a Church which still has around six services a year. This area was the scene of a terrible train crash in 1874, the details of which are here.
We spent a fair bit of our time in Thrupp cleaning and restoring Caxton to its former glory and by the time we left, the starboard side looked magnificent. The paintwork had been polished and the gunwhales, side hatches and tunnel bands had all been painted.
Staying a week in one place was a bit of a novelty for us and felt a bit like we were holidaying on a campsite but with spectators. The weekend was blessed with good weather and as a result there was a steady stream of visitors to Thrupp. We found it funny to hear passers-by commenting on our boat, seemingly unaware that we could hear every word. We even heard one parent pointing out to their child, “look, there’s a lady doing some knitting”. Well, eventually the notion of being an “extra” in an unofficial living museum wore a bit thin and we were glad when it started to rain on Sunday afternoon as that seemed to disperse the gongoozlers.
The weather turned a bit sour for our last couple of days at Thrupp but we still managed to get out now and again between showers for the odd trip to the tearoom, pub or shop. Had we been on holiday, we would have had to brave the elements and get on with our journey but in our new found existence, that is now a thing of the past. We managed to survive on one tank of water and our solar panels kept the batteries topped up for the first five days. When the thick cloud arrived with the rain on day six, we ran the engine for a while just to make sure that we had enough power to see us through the day.
All good things must come to an end and for us that meant leaving Thrupp on Wednesday morning, our first priority being to refill the almost empty water tank.
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.
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.
We slept in!
As predicted, we didn’t get up as early as we’d hoped but nevertheless we were still on the way before eight o’clock and made our way down to and through Allens lock. Another mile saw us at the lift bridge at Lowe Heyford and then we were through the wharf and on to the water point. Once we had topped up the tank we started on our way again and continued our journey southwards. We saw a few boats travelling in each direction, nothing exciting but enough to keep the locks moving. It wasn’t a great day for the wildlife, an abandoned duckling in one lock, an abandoned moorhen chick below another and then a dead hare in Pigeon’s lock. We passed the narrowboat ‘Bones’ belonging to the canal boat magazine columnist Mortimer Bones. Mortimer’s monthly column often describes her haphazard attempts at maintaining and improving her floating palace. You’ve got a bit of work on your hands there girl but on a positive note if the mag keeps paying you for your articles while you do it, you’ll have a job for life!!
After we passed through the weir lock we encountered a boat that had become untied at one end, it was too difficult for us to stop and re-tie the partially drifting vessel so we decided to carry on and hope that someone travelling in the opposite direction would pull in on the lift bridge mooring and pull the boat in.
A few minutes later and we reached Thrupp where we found a mooring just after the lift bridge on the bend of the canal. The wind was starting to pick up and there was the odd spot of rain in the air as we tied up the seven day mooring. We wandered down to the Boat Inn where we chose steak and stout pie with mashed potato and peas for lunch. Unfortunately the steak and stout pie was basically mushroom pie with gravy, the odd piece of beef and a random silverskin onion. Not great particularly if like me you don’t eat mushrooms, lesson learned – remember to ask if steak pie contains mushrooms.
After lunch we walked around the waterfronted village of Thrupp before returning to the boat where we have settled down for the rest of a day which has now become dull and drizzly. Only six miles and four locks now separate us from the end of the canal in Oxford where we are hoping to spend the next couple of days.