As expected it rained all day on Wednesday, well until 6:30pm anyway. In contrast, we awoke to a bright sunlit morning this morning – oh how quickly the sunshine lifts the spirits. At 7am I walked to the village shop to buy some potatoes and butter and when I returned, there was already some activity around the bottom lock. NB Oakapple had just entered the chamber from above. We haven’t seen Richard & Sharon since we passed them near Hawkesbury in September 2014 . I had a brief chat with them both before once again, we went in opposite directions.
After returning to Caxton, we made our final preparations and set off. It was a glorious morning and ideal for locking, we just took our time and two hours later we had ascended the eight locks and tied up at Marson Doles for water. We had to tie on the lock landing because there was a CaRT boat tied on the water point but with so little traffic it wasn’t a problem.
As we were filling with water, nb Aileen Rose approached so I grabbed a windlass and helped them into the lock at Marston Doles. We were lock buddies in 2013 so it was good to see them again too.
Once we had filled with water, we were on our way across the lonely summit once again. We passed a few boats along the way but generally it was a quiet passage.
The sun continued to shine as we made our way towards Fenny Compton and we had hoped to find a mooring space there, however it was not to be and we had to pass through. An hour later and we found a place to tie up just above Claydon top lock. Sue had been preparing dinner along the way as well as baking oatcakes and making mackerel pate (how does she do that and still manage eight locks?) . So when we tied up, we ate and afterwards went for a walk into Claydon village. There’s nothing there except the church, the bygones museum closed a few years ago so it appears to be yet another “dormitory ” village in rural England.
We returned to Caxton after our circular walk of around three miles. Rain started falling about 7pm and it has continued ever since. Tomorrow’s forecast is for yet more rain so we’ll decide on our course of action ( or in-action) in the morning.
We had another day off yesterday, for no other reason than we could, so we did! We had booked a table at the Wharf Inn for Sunday lunch so after a lazy start, we got up and dressed and eventually made our way along the towpath to the pub and had a fabulous roast dinner each. The rest of the afternoon was spent just lazing around until it was time for bed.
This morning was a different story, we were awake early and moved on to the water point for seven o’clock where we brimmed the tank before setting off half an hour later. The weather was already amazing, blue skies and blazing sun with only a slight breeze to keep matters cool. The crossing of the summit on the Oxford is a bit of a chore as far as I am concerned and today was no exception. One overgrown blind corner follows another and there’s bugger all to see in between, making for a tedious passage to Marston Doles and the top of the Napton flight.
We made steady progress down, meeting boats at most of the nine locks so it all seemed very pleasant in the August sunshine.
With a bit of collaboration with the volunteer lock keepers, Sue managed to ensure that the elsan mooring was free for us as we left the bottom lock. It took us four minutes to pull over and empty two cassettes and be on our way again – the boating equivalent of a formula 1 pit stop. We rounded the corner and found a mooring straight away so we had no choice but to tie up and head to the Folly Inn again for lunch.
After lunch we went our separate ways, I wandered up to the village shop in Napton while Sue bought an ice cream from the Folly Inn shop for the kind lock keeper who had looked after us on the way down.
We’ve been leapfrogging nb Indigo Dream for the last couple of days and today was no exception.
All that remained was for us to be entertained by the numerous boats which failed to take the bend behind us.
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.
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 did very little yesterday evening, boats kept coming and going but eventually everything quietened down and we went to bed. We were awake by six thirty so we decided to get up and get going. We were underway before seven and crept past the line of boats moored to the corner below the bottom lock of the Napton flight. We pulled up and filled the water tank, ready for the ascent that lay before us. It took half an hour to fill the tank and then we were off again and into the chamber of the bottom lock which was already empty. We made great progress as we worked the locks between us, Sue preparing each lock and me finishing off. We had help at the sixth lock from someone who was camping there, as a reward we filled his water bottle and gave him some milk. We only had to turn the last two locks and we were able to leave the top lock open as we left for a boat about to start the descent. The nine locks had taken exactly two hours, not bad going at all.
It’s three years since our last trip along here and it’s our first time with Caxton, a boat sixteen feet longer than our last boat, Phoenix III. This shallow canal twists and turns its way across the summit through overgrown areas and around tight blind corners, not easy in a boat of this length. However, we spend a lot of time on the Ashby canal so none of this is new to us and as a result we reached Fenny Compton unscathed. Surprisingly enough, we were able to find a prime mooring at the start of the fourteen day stretch so we tied up, closed up and went to the Wharf Inn for lunch. If yesterday’s meals at the Folly were very good, then today’s by definition must have been excellent. Home made steak pie, mash and veg, all cooked to perfection. Nothing like a flight of locks to build up an appetite but we went for a long walk straight after to burn up some of the calories!
Back to the boat to relax again in the evening. Like yesterday, the boats keep coming and going late into the day. Each to their own but we much prefer to do our travelling in the morning so that we can secure a good mooring early enough and then give ourselves options for the rest of the day.
Our night at Fenny Compton had been a peaceful one and we awoke refreshed and ready to face another day. It was warm even at seven o’clock so we hoped that we might be enjoying some summery weather. We weren’t disappointed either, when we untied at eight the high hazy cloud was only just obscuring the sun as we picked our way slowly passed the long line of moored boats that are a feature of this area. We then started our long and lonely journey across the summit, the convoluted route totally disorientating us along the way. We didn’t see anything on the move for over an hour and after passing speeding Ashby boat, we caught up with a Rose narrowboat following a Viking afloat boat. The entertainment began at a bridge, where else? The Viking passed through and panicked when he met an oncoming privateer and grounded himself at the same time burying himself in the reeds and bushes on the offside. After allowing the private boat to pass under the bridge, the Rose narrowboat shot through, passing Viking just as he had almost righted himself. The Viking ended up back in the reeds again as a result! By this time we had stopped well behind to give them all time to sort themselves out and of course to get a good view of the action.
We now resigned ourselves for a journey on tickover behind the two holiday boats and then we would have the pleasure of following them down through the locks that lay ahead between Marston Doles and Napton. There were no more incidents on our slow chug to Marston Doles but we were delighted when both boats pulled in to take on water, propelling us to the front of the queue. With boats coming up the flight, the first two locks were easy but then we found ourselves following nb Wey with nothing coming up to aid the progress. Part way down we saw that ‘Wey’ were sitting in the lock ahead looking over the fields, it turned out that they we were watching a calf being born in the field. By the time we had moved down, the calf’s mother was licking and prodding her new offspring into life, everything seemed to be going alright as we passed on our way. We were being followed by nb African Queen, crewed by a couple who had recently sold their business and moved on to their boat, now embarking on a new way of life. With three of us following each other, we all helped with each others paddles and gates which seemed to pass the time if nothing else. Three locks to go saw a boat coming up which then opened up a gap between us and ‘Wey’ and with volunteer lockies manning the last two locks, our passage to the bottom was speeded up. We found a mooring around the corner so we tied up and went to the Folly Inn. The weather was still glorious so we treated ourselves to lunch in the garden.
On returning to Phoenix III we were in two minds as to what to do, stay put for the day or carry on in the sunshine? In the end we decided on the latter course of action and we cruised back to Braunston. All too soon we found ourselves back behind our Viking friend who was weaving his way along on tickover. We thought that we had seen the last of him when he weaved his way around a widebeam which happened to be winding at Wolfhampcote at the time. After allowing the widebeam to complete its manoeuvre, we passed by and then saw travelling in the opposite direction nb Aileen Rose, the boat that we had shared locks with between Warwick and Stockton a few weeks ago. Cheery waves and shouted hellos were exchanged as we passed each other. Then we caught up with our old friend the Viking afloat boat in the final straight before Braunston turn where the crew had decided to pull up, walk to the junction and ‘suss things out’ as they said when we eventually passed them by. It’s bad enough pulling up there at the best of times with boats travelling from three directions but with a CaRT barge tied up almost opposite, the obstruction was complete.
Once around the turn we made the familiar trip back to the marina, our progress only impeded by a boat trying to turn in the marina entrance rather than in the winding hole directly opposite, never mind, it’s all good fun when the sun is shining!
Once we were back on our pontoon we took advantage of the good weather and washed as much of the boat as we could before nipping up to the village shop and then settling down for the evening. We would spend our last night on Phoenix III in the marina before heading off home in the morning. This would give us a week before returning for the Braunston Historic boat rally.
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.
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.