Monday, May 28, 2007

. . . and Then Came The Rain!

Just after we filled up with diesel (at Thames prices!) on Saturday morning, we decided to try and find a good mooring spot and stay for the rest of the day. Our next 'Poste Restante' would be at Goring, just 6 miles and 2 locks away, and the Post Office wouldn't be open till Tuesday, so there was no rush.
We passed this attractive little boathouse with a spiral staircase and moored a little further along on the opposite bank. A lovely spot, ideal to stay a bit longer, so we stayed through into Sunday and thought we might move off on Monday morning.

The forecast was for rain (the usual Bank Holiday recipe), and sure enough it rained pretty much all day Sunday – and right through the night!

By Monday morning, the river looked a bit higher and the flow a little stronger, and it was still raining. Worth waiting till it stopped, we thought. By lunchtime, the level was definitely higher and we phoned the lock keeper at the next lock downstream. "We've got the red signs out now, sir" he said. These are the ones that say, 'CAUTION – STRONG STREAM' and the the Thames User's Guide says that in these conditions "all boats are advised not to navigate until the stream abates."
So here we are, still just downstream on the opposite bank to the little boathouse, hoping to be away in a day or so and within walking distance of shops at Wallingford if we need them. No problem; we just can't move!
And why have we given you two nearly identical photos of the boathouse? No, it's not a mistake! Just compare the river levels between 11:55 on Saturday morning and 17:47 on Monday afternoon. We reckon it has gone up by about 2 feet or so. (Look at the tyres on the right of the pictures and the slats of the boathouse door).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Getting Used to 'The River'

Being on the Thames is so different from the canals, as we said before. Apart from the lock-keepers doing all the work (most of the time!), there is the flow of the river, the different scenery and wildlife, the remoteness of some parts . . .

First of all, here is the 'morning after' photo from exactly the same place as the 'after sunset' picture last time – it gives some idea of the openness of this very different scenery.

And then there are the bridges! Some really old ones on this part of the river, going upstream from Oxford to Lechlade. First is the 13th-Century one at the wonderfully-named Newbridge. If this one was new, how old was the old one?

And then there is the very oldest (apparently) at Radcot (just near The Swan, where we had a very good Sunday lunch). Boats actually go through a later arch (1787), but the road still goes over the river on this one.

And then to Lechlade! Just half a mile on from here, we had to turn around at Inglesham and start back downstream. One day, hopefully, the Thames and Severn Canal will be functional again and boats will be able to travel on from Inglesham to the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal and the River Severn.

On our way back 'down', we dawdled deliberately so that we could visit Kelmscott Manor, one-time home of William Morris, as it opens on Wednesdays. From the Thames, you would hardly know Kelmscott is there. In Kelmscott, we heard someone say, "the Thames is quite near here, isn't it?" – they had no idea that it was only 200 yards away!

We took quite a few photos, but here is a slightly less 'usual' one of the little courtyard at the rear of the house.

Then chugging on downstream and back towards Oxford. It takes a little practice to get used to travelling with the flow of the river – more speed than travelling upstream, but less control. No wonder downstream 'traffic' has the right of way!

Passing the point where we joined the Thames last Friday, we entered more 'new territory' (for us) and very soon found ourselves having to wait for the last 2 races of this day of Oxford 'Eights Week'. A good chat with the student Race Marshal there while we waited, and an American visitor – both seemed interested in trying out canal boating some time.

And, as a fitting end to this evening's blog, here is a little procession of geese swimming off into the Thames twilight . . .

Saturday, May 19, 2007

On To The Thames – at last!

After several days waiting, suddenly we are 'all go' again and have finally reached the Thames. On Wednesday Mike phoned to tell us that the second of our long-awaited parcels had arrived at Aynho Wharf, just as we were about ten minutes away – what timing! Dave spent much of the rest of that day checking the tools order, stowing it away and packing up items that customers were waiting for. Then under way to the edge of Oxford the next day and down into the city on Friday to send off the parcels, pick up our mail and do a little shopping before venturing out onto the River Thames for the first time.

How different it is! Wide open expanses of water north of Oxford, cruising upstream against the flow, being 'waited on' with lock-keepers doing all the work . . . and all with strong winds, though very little rain!

The pictures show another boat entering Isis Lock from the Oxford Canal to the Thames, and the after-sunset glow over the flat calm of our Saturday-night mooring above Rushey Lock.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Preparations – of many kinds!

On our way down the Oxford Canal with Calvin and Miriam a few days ago, we saw the little cottage at Somerton Deep Lock. On the way back up, we took some better photos, and here they are. The 'window' in the roof is just painted on, though the sill is real!

We came north of Cropredy on Thursday, turned round south again and are moored on the edge of this pretty village. But why, you may ask, are we still on the Oxford Canal, and not down on the Thames by now? There are several answers:–

First, we need to get ready for cruising on the Thames. This means we must have an anchor and lifejackets. When we called in at
Aynho Wharf a few days ago and mentioned what we where looking for, Mike Walker said that he had an anchor in stock, just the right size for us, which he had bought in early for another boat. No problem, he could sell us that one and order another for the original customer. Mike didn't have any lifejackets, but Dave found a supplier on the internet and so we should soon be fully equipped for the River.

Since we started out in March, taking our tools sales business with us, there has been the question of how we are going to get deliveries of fresh stock from Switzerland. We have optimistically hoped that a friendly boatyard would be happy to accept a pallet load of stuff for us, but we didn't know for sure. Sales have been brisk recently, so some tools have sold out and we placed a fresh order a couple of weeks ago. Mike seemed just the sort of guy to ask – no problem, he said, so we expect the order to arrive there early next week. Thanks, Mike! We would love to 'plug' his business as a 'thank you', but can't find a website address for him.

Around about the same time, some more 'preparations' became public. Some weeks ago, Shireen told us that she is pregnant, but wanted to wait until she had her first scan before telling everyone. Well, now the scan is done and we have been given permission to tell the world that we are due to become grandparents in November! Shireen and Frankie are very happy and it has brough fresh focus to their house-hunting in London. It may also mean that we will try to be near them towards the end of the year – we shall need to find a good mooring!

Old Friends on (nearly) New Territory

Although we had taken canal holidays in the 1970s and 1980s, after our move to Devon in 1987 we knew it was most unlikely that we would be able to take any more for a while. The main reason was that we had livestock and could not get away for longer periods.

The years went by, we no longer had livestock, the children had left home and we were running our market gardening business. Sometimes we would go for a walk along the Grand Western Canal near Tiverton and enjoy 'canal scenery' in a Devon setting. After one such walk, we called in on our friends Calvin and Miriam, little knowing that they had been renovating a boat which they could take on a trailer, and had already enjoyed several short breaks on it. We went home from that evening with a renewed interest in boating, and Dave started looking up narrowboats on the internet – which is how we heard of the Challenger shared ownership scheme.

Very appropriate then, that Calvin and Miriam should come and spend a few days on 'Zindagi' with us. They met us at Banbury on Friday 3rd May, and we travelled southwards together as far as the outskirts of Oxford. We were here in the early 1980s but, like the northern Stratford Canal, very little of it remains in our memories! We had a great lunch in 'The Jolly Boatman', which we think is the same pub where we met Terry and Di, Paul and Jill all those years ago!

Here is Calvin in silhouette, working on the lock paddle gear, and Miriam sticking her tongue out as Dave takes her picture. We had a great time together!

We turned back north again and dropped off Calvin and Mim at Lower Heyford, where they got on their little folding bikes to cycle back to Banbury to collect their car. With hindsight, the train would have been a better idea, as this section of towpath is NOT good for cycling – they were exhausted when they drove back to pick up their luggage!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Nest in a Lock Gate!

Coming down through Varney's lock towards Cropredy, Dave was surprised to see a note pinned to a lockgate beam: "Take Care, Wagtail's Nest in Gate". Sure enough, there it was, and the adult Grey Wagtail even stayed on the nest all the time that we were emptying the lock and opening the gate to come out. She only flew away when Val passed about 3 feet from her! Look carefully and you will see the young birds in the nest by the nettle plant.

Back on the Oxford Canal

We enjoy all canal travelling, but there are some stretches that have become firm favourites. The southern part of the Oxford Canal is one of those. We first travelled on it back in the early 80s, when we took Val's Mum, Dora with us for a week. Her comment that she liked this holiday because the view from the kitchen window kept changing has passed into family folklore.

The next time we came this way was with our friends Colin and Janet from Lapford in October 2005 – their introduction to canal boating and a very enjoyable week on 'Charlton', our syndicate share boat with Challenger. Then again in June 2006, when our three 'children' and their friend had 'Charlton' for our last share week and we joined them for a day.

So here we are again, coming up the long drawn out flight of nine locks from Napton towards the 'summit level' – a lovely meandering stretch of canal that snakes aound the contours before sinking down again towards Banbury and Oxford. If you look closely, you may be able to see Napton Windmill on the hill.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

First Cygnets of the Year!

One of the great joys of our travels at this time of year has been to see the unfolding of a new Spring. When we started up in Lancashire in late March, the trees were pretty bare, with just the blackthorn blossom. Then the beginning of the hawthorn leaf, followed by the hawthorn blossom and all the other trees coming into leaf.

Down on the the Llangollen Canal, we saw the first ducklings, soon followed by some goslings. Now the ducklings we see are quite big, and it probably won't be long before some ducks start a second brood. Lots of swans sitting on nests (some in the most unlikely places!), but we still had not seen any cygnets – until the 1st of May! Here they are, just before we came to Calcutt locks on the Grand Union.

More Co-operation

After his help with the Hatton locks on Saturday 28th April, Jeremy met up with us on the Sunday and took us to meet some of his friends at their church meeting. A good number there, lively worship and teaching from Psalm 27. We were the oldest there by several years! The three of us went for a meal at 'The Cape of Good Hope', which is easier to find by canal than by road! (Very good food). Then back to the boat in Jeremy's Morris, where three of his friends came and joined us for an hour or so, chugging along and working through a lock or two.

The next day, we continued climbing slowly back up the other side of the valley and came to the 'Blue Lias' pub at the foot of the Stockton flight of 8 locks, where we stopped to take on drinking water. Decision time: should we stay there for the night or go up the locks? We decided to go on up, and just as we were in the bottom lock and about to shut the gates, another boat came up behind us. So we shared the work on the locks and made it up in very good time – again! Simon and his Dad were taking a new boat to the Boat Show at Crick and were glad to save time by working with another crew. They must have been exhausted – they had started down the Hatton flight that morning and had come all that way. Together, we made it up the 8 locks in just over an hour.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Teamwork on Hatton Locks

We went down the Hatton flight of locks on Saturday 28th, but not before we had to do a little troubleshooting! When Dave went for his morning walk, the canal below the top lock was empty! (Had someone deliberately vandalised the lock flight by draining out the water, or had there just been an accidental leak?) Either way, the canal had to be filled, so we just 'let down' some more water until there was enough to fill the canal.
Jeremy had planned to join us that morning, but he was a bit delayed, so we started out without him. As we did so, another boat moored behind us also pulled out to come down the locks with us. They had seen that we were on the move and decided to come down together – it really makes a lot of difference, as we found out!
Jo walked on down the hill to prepare the locks for us, Val was 'at the helm' of Zindagi, Dave did the lock work and Geoff was navigating 'Puffin 35' and hopping off to help with the locks. When Jeremy arrived, Geoff stayed on board and Jeremy and Dave worked the locks. With Jo's preparation and this team effort following her, we were down the whole flight of 21 locks in exactly 2½ hours! Maybe not a record, but very quick when you consider that we normally allow about 10-15 minutes per lock. We shall probably see Geoff and Jo again, as they are heading south towards the Thames like us.