Wednesday, December 09, 2009

No Further West – This Time!

Back in Bathampton, we needed to move off the moorings where BW had kindly let us stay for a week and not just two days, so we chugged on a bit towards Bath (not far away, anyway) and found a space where we could stay for up to 14 days. We were still hoping to get down on the River Avon and maybe travel as far as the outskirts of Bristol before coming back, but it all depended on the state of the river. So, every day or two, Dave walked down the locks and had a look at the river. Here's Pulteney Bridge and Weir, but the picture doesn't really show how much water was coming down – far too much to even think about taking a boat on it! Tony's boat was moored up on the river, and there it would have to stay until conditions were safe enough for him to move it to the canal. It was straining at its moorings but looked pretty safe.

After a trip along to a boatyard to get some diesel, we moored on the 3-day moorings a little closer to the city. Apart from being rather better moorings, that made it a bit easier for Val to walk into town. We didn't need to stay very long, because we were expecting visitors and needed to go and collect them. Meanwhile, Dave had the opportunity to wander along the canal and see butterbur in flower (well out of season!) and more of the architecture. Cleveland House used to be the headquarters of the Kennet and Avon Canal Company, and apparently had a trapdoor in the top of the tunnel through which paperwork was passed between boatmen and clerks. We can't see any sign of it now!

So, who were our visitors? Shireen and Thor, coming down all the way from Glasgow to see us! All we had to do was travel back to Bradford-on-Avon to meet them on the train – no problem! As you can see, they are both in fine fettle, and Thor likes his food!

The rain went on falling, though not ALL the time, but it was still too wet for Thor to get out and enjoy the towpath very much. When he did get out, his dislike of wellies was soon tempered by the realisation that they gave him a licence to splash in puddles!
All too soon, they were on their way back north again and we too realised that we had better start our return journey. After a day or two more in Bath, still waiting in vain for useful responses from the battery manufacturers, we decided to start eastwards. The Avon had gone down briefly (enough for Tony to get his boat off it and onto the canal) but, if we had gone downstream then, we would probably still be there, waiting for the levels to subside again, because it soon rose again.
We have often wondered about travelling on the Severn Estuary between Bristol, Portishead and Sharpness. Not an easy passage, and not to be undertaken in poor weather or without the guidance of a pilot! We had not considered it this time, even if we HAD reached Bristol. But . . another time? Wait and see!

Batteries – and the Somerset Levels!

Our battery problem on board Zindagi was getting worse, but all three solutions began to slot into place. (Thank you, Father!) We had invited Jonny and Sue to come and visit us on the boat while we were somewhere near them. They replied that they would love to see us but they were too busy with stuff at home, so would we like to come and see them? They would even drive up from near Glastonbury to collect us. Meanwhile, we had located a mobile auto electrical specialist who was happy to come and collect the batteries, charge them up and bring them back to us a day or two later, so all we had to do was arrange mooring at Bathampton for a week instead of two days. Good old British Waterways! When we phoned up to explain our problem, they very kindly gave us permission, so it was all arranged.

We got to Bathampton on the Sunday, giving Dave the opportunity to walk into Bath and see the canal as it slips decorously through the handsome cast iron bridges of Sydney Gardens. It must have been quite a clash of cultures when the working canal came through this genteel part of Bath back in the 1800s!

Lee the battery guy was coming to Bathampton at about lunchtime on Monday, so we ran the central heating and had the woodburner going before Dave disconnected the batteries and took them out, leaving the boat pretty much lifeless. Sue drove up at the same time and, although Lee was a little delayed, we were soon leaving Zindagi all locked up and heading down to the Somerset Levels! Here's a view of part of the River Brue with Glastonbury Tor in the background.

Jonny and Sue had warned us that they were very involved in some repairs, improvements and decoration in the bungalow that Jonny's parents were soon to move in to, so we went prepared to help, and were soon busy painting walls and ceilings. Don't get the idea that we were slaving away all the time – far from it! We enjoyed meeting some of their friends we hadn't met before, and were generously included in invitations out for two evenings and a lunchtime!

The few days were extended into a week, and Lee kindly re-arranged his return delivery of the batteries. His comments on the batteries were not encouraging, though. He had tested them after charging them and found the same problem as we had, that they were losing charge fast. "I think you'll go on having trouble with them" he said. Really nice and helpful bloke, and we have no hesitation in recommending him if you need auto electrics in the Bristol and Bath area. Dave e-mailed the manufacturers again, reporting Lee's comments and telling them that we would keep them advised of progress.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Down the Avon Valley

From Sells Green, the Kennet and Avon Canal seems to wander slowly through the countryside, and gradually down a few more locks until it gets to the edge of Trowbridge. Just past there, the River Avon appears from the north and, although it disappears again quite soon, the rest of the canal down to Bath follows the Avon valley closely. At Bradford-on-Avon, after going down the last lock before Bath, the canal soon finds itself going along a ledge on the wooded side of the valley. Then, at Avoncliff, the canal suddenly takes a right-angle turn and crosses the river and railway on the magnificent stone aqueduct built by John Rennie. You can just see the river hiding in the trees which line it as we look down from the canal's elevated position.

After just less than three miles of travel on the other side of the valley, the canal once again takes a flying leap over rail and river, this time over the Dundas aqueduct (another Rennie masterpiece) to Dundas Wharf, where a ¼ mile arm is all that remains of the Somersetshire Coal Canal, originally planned to reach Radstock, though it never did so. The main line of the K & A continues northwards towards Bath.

It had been raining for several days (or was it weeks?) and we could see that the river was fairly fast-flowing. Would we be able to get down on the Avon when we got to Bath, or would it be too full? Although we didn't really want to go all the way down into Bristol, perhaps it would be nice to go down as far as Hanham . . . A quick check with Tony (who had reached Bath some time ago) told us that there was no point in hurrying as the river was definitely too high at present.

So we dawdled! This part of the canal is set in some of the best scenery, only slightly marred by the fact that the high valley sides make mobile phone calls (and our internet connection) a very uncertain operation. At Dundas, the best place to make a phone call was in the middle of the aqueduct – not so good in the pouring rain!

A few days earlier, we had contacted the manufacturers of the 'leisure' batteries on Zindagi, as we had been having some problems for several weeks and they seemed to be getting worse. The batteries didn't hold charge properly and seemed to be very thirsty for topping up with distilled water. We had an email back that recommended us to take the batteries off the boat and give them a high charge "and everything should be fine". Easier said than done. This is our home, and taking the batteries out would be like disconnecting your house from the mains! About the only thing that would go on working would be the woodburner! Still, the batteries were definitely not right, so it seemed the best thing to do. We needed to find three things: 1) someone who could charge the batteries for us 2) somewhere to moor the boat that would be accessible and safe and 3) somewhere else to stay for a few days.

Bathampton seemed like a good place to aim for, but the moorings there were restricted to 48 hours only. We chugged on anyway, searching the internet and making phone calls to find possible battery specialists in the area. Hidden away below the canal and just next to the river at Claverton is Claverton Pumping Station (another pumping station we have never been inside!), which is another John Rennie design, using a waterwheel driven by the river to pump water up to the canal – unique!

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Challenge of Caen Hill

Heading westwards, our next major milestone was Devizes, and Caen Hill in particular. Since Wootton Rivers we had been on the 15-mile 'long pound', with no locks as the canal wriggled around the contours. Soon that would all change!

We arrived at Devizes Wharf in the late afternoon and planned to go down the 6 'Town' locks and 16 Caen Hill locks the following day. That evening and the following morning, we looked around to see if there was anyone else likely to be going down the locks, so that we could share the locks and help each other. The weather forecast was not all that good, and the morning sky's message was 'red sky in the morning – shepherds' warning'.

Just a couple of hundred yards ahead of us was 'Britannia', Tony's boat. He was planning to go down the flight that same day, and had arranged for David, a friend of his, to come and help him. We agreed to meet after the first lock and go down the flight together. After we had gone through the 'town' locks, Tony had to pop in to the BW office so, while we were waiting for him, the three of us decided to tie the two boats together and start down the flight 'breasted up', with Val steering the two boats and David and Dave working the locks. Tony had a surprise when he came out of the office and found Britannia was already part way down the hill!

After that, it was near record-breaking progress! One of the 3 blokes went ahead to prepare the next locks, while the other two operated the lock that the boats were going through. This meant that Val could drive straight out of one lock into the open top gates of the next. We were down the bottom of the Caen Hill 16 by 12:40, and we had only started off from Devizes Wharf at 9:20. That's 22 locks in 3 hours 20 minutes – just over 9 minutes per lock, which is good by any standards!

It's really worth looking at the scale of Caen Hill. Here is an aerial view, and here is some more information from British Waterways. There are lots of photos of it on the web, but here's one Dave took the next morning. Tony had gone on further but we were happy to stay there overnight. There was no hurry!

One of our memories is of taking a detour via Devizes on a family visit from Romford to Bristol back in the 70s or early 80s, just to see this magnificent flight of locks, even though it was completely derelict at the time. The next time we saw it was when we took a boat up it in 2004 – wow!

After Caen Hill, 'ordinary' locks might seem a little dull, but the remaining 7 locks down to Lower Foxhangers Farm have their own charm, with longer pounds between them and some side ponds as well.
We didn't travel far that day; just pottered on to Sells Green and filled up with water. We had thought to go a bit more but, in the event, decided to stay there overnight.

Over The Top Again – Twice More !

Once we had climbed the Crofton flight, we reckoned on a couple of days of westward travel before we should turn round in order to be able to meet Terry and Di back at Kintbury, so we went on, through the 500-yard Bruce Tunnel and down the Wootton Rivers locks that afternoon – a bit too far! There were some nice moorings just near the village of Wootton Rivers, but we thought we could just go on a little further before the light failed. We ended up having to moor a long way out from the bank, only JUST able to get on and off the boat without getting very wet!

Never mind, we didn't fall in, and were soon enjoying the scenery of the Vale of Pewsey, though we didn't stop at Pewsey Wharf this time. Not only did the trees give us a brilliant autumn display, but we soon caught our first glimpse of the white horse on the hills near Alton Barnes. When we were first here five years ago, Dave remembers thinking that there must be more than one of them, as we kept seeing it from different angles as the canal twisted and turned. No, there is just one! We needed more diesel soon, and were able to buy some at Honeystreet, though the boatyard's supplies were low, so they could only let us have 50 litres. Not enough to fill the tank, but enough to keep us going for a good while!

We were going to see the white horse again soon, as we decided to turn around just after just the village of All Cannings, and headed back through Honeystreet to Pewsey. This time, we did stop, filling the water tank while Dave nipped into the town to do some quick shopping.

We knew where we wanted to moor that night – NOT in the stretch of canal where we couldn't reach the bank, but at the moorings just above the bottom lock at Wootton Rivers. Very nice too!

The next day, we were cruising back through the little Bruce Tunnel and down the Crofton flight again, getting to Great Bedwyn before it got dark. That's when we heard from Terry and Di about their change of plans – they couldn't come and meet us after all! There was no need to go back to Kintbury, so we stayed and enjoyed a couple of days in Great Bedwyn, including a most enjoyable Sunday lunch at the Cross Keys, one of the most relaxed and easy-going 'front room' type pubs we have been to.

Fortunately, there is room to turn a narrowboat at Great Bedwyn, so we turned and set off towards Crofton again on the Monday morning, expecting to get over to Wootton Rivers again by the evening. Arriving at the lock next to Crofton Pumping Station, though, we were greeted by another boater whom we had seen earlier as he started off before us. Tony gave us the news that there was a problem with the lock and we were unlikely to go much further that day! We watched and listened as the British Waterways guys poked and tried to shift something that was holding the bottom lock gates open a little, allowing the water out as fast as the top paddles would let it in! They talked of maybe needing to get divers in the next day, but apparently Alistair would come and sort it all out in the morning –they hoped!

Another boater who was 'stranded' above the same lock but had her car nearby kindly offered a lift into Marlborough if we needed any shopping, so that was very useful, but we were still stuck for an unknown time while the lock was out of action.

You may be wondering why there is a picture of a windmill here. We were not in Norfolk or the Fens again but, sure enough, on the hill opposite the pumping station and just above the little village of Wilton, there stood a fine brick windmill! It turns out that it was built in 1820 with all the benefits of the lastest technology of the time and with 700 years of windmill history behind it – but why? The answer is very much canal-related!

Some of the local watermills had been demolished or had lost their powerful water supply as a result of the building of the Kennet and Avon Canal. Apparently the windmill thrived for about 30 years until it too was superseded by the more powerful steam mills and fast rail transport, falling into disuse in 1908. Like the canal, it has been restored, but doesn't get the same amount of use!

As promised, Alistair turned up the next morning and started to investigate the lock problem again. No need for divers; after very thorough probing, he shifted half a brick and some smaller stuff and thought it was worth trying to see if the lock would fill. If he was happy to try that, then Tony and we thought 'why not have a couple of boats in it at the same time?' So Tony's 'Britannia' and 'Zindagi' slipped into the lock, not knowing whether we would have to back out again if it didn't fill properly.

Happily, it worked! Britannia and Zindagi moved out of the lock to proceed up the rest of the flight, and the other stranded boat moved in to go down. At the top of the locks, we decided to stop, but Tony pressed on. He had a deadline to meet. He texted us later to say that he made it to Pewsey at 5.25 p.m. in the dark!

The next day, we chugged on to All Cannings, stopping on the way at Pewsey for water and another quick dash into town for Post Office and shopping. Our little detour was over and we were ready to continue westwards . . .

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Joining Up The Ends

When we re-started canal boating in 2004, our shared-ownership boat was based initially at Trowbridge on the K&A and, because we normally only had it for a week at a time, our 'range' was limited. We had never come very far east, only getting as far as the top of the flight of locks at Crofton.

Now we were beginning to get a little closer, but we were still in 'new territory' for us as we made our way through Kintbury and on towards Hungerford. Gradually the River Kennet was becoming less and less in evidence as the navigation subtly changed itself into a canal. Here we are at Dunmill lock, autumn colours still very much on show.

Soon we arrived in Hungerford, only to realise that we were running low on diesel. We should have checked earlier, but we now realised that there were no boatyards selling diesel in the 27 miles between Newbury and Honeystreet. There was only one thing to do, so Dave made 3 trips to a convenient filling station with our 20 litre jerry can on the frame of Val's shopping trolley!

Hungerford's visitor moorings are very attractive and, apart from walking to the filling station, we also enjoyed a short 'wander' up the high street. We expected to be back here again soon, as we were planning to meet up with Terry and Di, Val's brother and sister-in-law, and a trip from Kintbury to Hungerford and back seemed about right. Meanwhile, we were going to continue westwards for a while.

Autumn was still moving on, and there were more spindle berries in the hedgerow – what a unique colour! Apart from a VERY few that we have seen in Devon over the years, we don't seem to have seen this many since childhood years. Maybe it's just that we haven't been in the right place at the right time, maybe it's the season, or perhaps the soil round here suits spindle bushes really well!

Anyway, we continued west (now actually a bit more south-west) through some places with lovely names, like Froxfield, Little Bedwyn and then Great Bedwyn, before pressing on towards Crofton.

Back in 2004, when we were approaching Crofton from the west, Val's knees had been showing early signs of trouble, so Adam and Dave had left her with the boat above the top lock and had walked down the locks to see the old pumping station. It was closed then, so we had not been able to see inside, and had just walked back up the hill, turned the boat around and headed back westwards towards Pewsey.

This time, Val was very much in the picture as she took 'Zindagi' in front of Crofton Pumping Station towards the bottom lock. Not much hope of finding the pumping station open to visitors at the end of October, but we had heard an interesting story about it. Back in July, the electric pump (which normally pumps water up to the summit level) failed and the canal had to be closed to boats. Then British Waterways asked whether the old Pumping Station could help, so volunteers kept it running for several days and boat traffic was able to move again. Read the whole story here. It looks fascinating – we shall just have to try to visit some time when visitors are admitted, and preferably on a 'pumping day'.

There was just the matter of six more locks, and we had 'joined up the ends' of our earlier and current boating trips. We reached the top lock of the Crofton flight, found a pleasant spot to moor, and stopped for lunch!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Westward Bound – the K&A at Last!

After heading pretty consistently south on the Thames (OK, with a lot of wiggles!), we found the Kennet and Avon Canal taking us in a very definitely westerly direction. First on the agenda, almost a mile from leaving the Thames, we were suddenly in the glitz of Reading's 'Oracle Centre', heading upstream on the River Kennet. The navigation is quite narrow here, and the river's current can be quite strong, so it is controlled by traffic lights to avoid nautical pile-ups! There were very few other boats around, so the lights changed to green for us immediately, and the current was weak with the recent lack of rain. Interesting though it is, Reading and/or the Oracle Centre obviously don't want boaters hanging around, as there is no facility for mooring in the Centre itself and we were told that you have to pay at the only other moorings in town. We moved on – we had no need to stop as we had done our shopping at Sainsbury's, which has Thames moorings just a few yards away. Oh, the benefit of the various books we have with all this useful information!

Less than half an hour later, and we were back in the countryside. We had left the Thames, having witnessed its growth from a small, shallow and barely navigable river near Lechlade to a sizeable river at Reading – though of course it gets even bigger downstream! Now we were still on a river, but it was a smaller one, seeming quiet and remote again. It was about 5 o'clock, so we chugged on a little way before stopping, making sure that we didn't get too close to the M4 motorway, and stopped near Burghfield Bridge.

Next day, just after the M4 bridge, we came to the first of two unusual locks, unique to the K&A. Garston Lock is still to the original turf-sided design, very much as all 20 of the turf locks used to be between Reading and Newbury, with timber side walls to about 2 feet above lower water level, and then with the turf walls sloping away to the top. They used to leak badly, and all but two have been changed to more modern designs.

Purists may argue that the other one, Monkey Marsh Lock, has been 'inappropriately restored with copious use of concrete and steel', but they are both interesting examples of past techniques. The loss of water by leakage was (and is) apparently not a problem, as there is normally plenty of water in the Kennet!

As you can see, Jeremy was still with us, supposedly not exerting himself too much as he has been diagnosed with a slipped disk and needs to give it time to heal up. That didn't stop him taking the tiller of course (no problem there), but perhaps he should have stopped short of running ahead and operating the next locks! He did have a few aches and pains while he stayed on board, but has apparently recovered quite well since.

We needed to 'crack on' a bit, as he needed to catch a train back to London from Newbury, and we still had a few miles to cover. The autumnal scenery was great, with still a surprisinging amount of green in the trees. Almost all our photos seem to show this prolonged 'Indian Summer', and there were still very few boats on the water, though it did get a little busier in schools' half-term week.

Jeremy was not the only one 'getting up to tricks' as we progressed west. Having him around meant that Val could get off to help work some of the locks, leaving Dave to take the boat in and out of the locks – real role reversal! Just goes to show how well those new knees are working, doesn't it? Here are Jeremy and Val working together on Widmead Lock, just east of Newbury.

Planning around the winter maintenance stoppages, we had made special note of Widmead Lock, as it would be closed from 2nd November to 18th December. It was only 23rd October at this point, so there was plenty of time, but there was a sense of a door closing behind us as we moved on!

We reached Newbury in the late afternoon – the clocks weren't going back for a couple of days, so it wasn't dark yet – and tied up at the moorings in Victoria Park. A quick 'recce' revealed that there were several places where we could eat out together before Jeremy left us, and both Sainsbury's and the railway station were within easy walking distance for the next morning.

After enjoying tasty pizzas and returning to the boat and our beds, we were disturbed at midnight by kids taking things off the roof of the boat. Putting his head out of the hatch, Dave saw them running off and a sack of coal on the bank. When he got out to see what else might have gone, he could see our bag of potting compost floating slowly downstream but nothing else was missing. Some fairly frantic 'fishing' with the grappling hook, and the compost was retrieved. We told the police, but of course it was far too late to do anything about the culprits.

Jeremy got off OK the next morning, and we made our way slowly out of Newbury, under the 1770 Town Bridge and up through the lock, which was the first on the Newbury to Bath section, completed in 1796.

Then out through the attractive West Mills area, complete with an unusual diagonal swing bridge, and past the cottages which were once a 17th century weaving factory.
Back out into the countryside again, we were making very good progress westwards . . .

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Really Heading South This Time!

Since we left Blisworth in mid-September, we knew that we were really planning to head south, down the Thames to Reading and then on to the Kennet and Avon, but we seemed to have been trundling up and down the Oxford Canal, with short trips on the Thames thrown in for good measure. We enjoyed it, but now it was time to begin the journey south in earnest!

Ironically, to start off southwards we needed to travel northwards just one more time. We had a couple of days after Colin & Jan left before Jeremy was going to join us for a while. We needed shopping and somewhere to meet Jeremy easily – good old Banbury again!

Then it was time to head south. We even made a few early starts to make the best of the shortening days – so here is some glorious autumn colour in morning sunshine, just south of Lower Heyford, mid-October. Another reason was to meet up with one of Jeremy's friends at about noon just north of Oxford, and we made it with pinpoint timing! By late afternoon we were on the Thames.

We passed the place where we had seen red kites with Colin & Jan, and came on to Clifton Hampden with its handsome brick bridge. The afternoon light seemed to catch it just right.

Then, just a little further on, near Burcot, we saw red kites again and this time managed to get a couple of pictures. Even with the telephoto lens, you can't see much detail, but at least practised kite-spotters will recognise this as definitely being a red kite – the forked tail is such a give-away! It is amazing to remember how very rare these birds were until only a few years ago, and they really are a joy to watch in flight.

Further downriver, we found an idyllic overnight mooring spot near Dorchester (Oxfordshire), with the oddly-named Wittenham Clumps on the skyline. The little River Thame joins the river at Dorchester, and from here on downstream it is very definitely the Thames, whereas it is also known as the Isis upstream from here.

We were soon passing through more places we remembered from 2007 – Shillingford, with its old bridge and fine houses; Wallingford, where we were stuck for 5 days when the river level rose; Goring, still feeling very much like a village by the river. Now it was all highlighted by autumn, with russet leaves and even spindle berries in the hedgerow!

We had made such good progress down the Thames that we were in Reading only six days after picking up Jeremy at Banbury. We turned off the Thames under a not-very-inspiring railway bridge and chugged about ¼ mile up the River Kennet to Blake's Lock. This is the entrance to the Kennet and Avon Canal from the Thames and, like the Thames, managed by the Environment Agency. Only a hundred yards or so later, we were back under British Waterways jurisdiction.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Sampling the Middle Thames

Colin and Jan last joined us afloat in July 2008, up on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Their first canal experience with us was back in 2005, when we took a week on our shared-ownership boat and travelled from Gayton on the Grand Union to the Oxford Canal as far as Banbury and then back to Gayton. Here we were on the Oxford Canal again, so we gave them the choice of where to go – down to Oxford and then either UP or DOWN the Thames seemed like the obvious options. They chose the downstream option – either way, they would see the southern end of the Oxford Canal, plus boating on the Thames would be a new experience! It didn't take them long to get back into the swing of boating life, as you can see!

The weather stayed mostly fine, with 'sunny intervals', as we headed south. You would hardly believe that this 'rural' lock scene is actually in Kidlington, on the northern outskirts of Oxford.

It's not all hard work, pushing heavy lock gates, after all!

Soon we were at the point where the 'Duke's Cut' would take us out from the canal, straight onto a backwater of the Thames, without needing to plod on through the suburbs of Oxford. We were keeping that part for the return leg of the journey!

Turning off the canal under a small bridge, we came to Duke's Lock, a seemingly forgotten corner of the system, but our quickest way out onto 'the River'. Along the winding backwater and out onto the Thames, coming through two locks in rural settings before approaching Oxford again and passing all the University rowing club boat houses. This is where we had to wait for some of the races in the 'Eights Week' when we came down in May 2007 – all quiet now; very few boats out on the river, so we had it almost to ourselves as we headed downstream towards Abingdon, south-westwards into the setting sun.

Just round the corner from here, we found a pleasant, remote spot to moor before going down to Abingdon lock and the town in the morning.

Down through Abingdon's originally medieval bridge (rebuilt in 1927), where we moored up for a brief visit to the town. Then on down river, as we had worked out that we had better turn round that day and start heading back again. We saw several red kites flying overhead near Culham, but could we catch them on 'film'? Not this time!

Starting back upstream from Abingdon the next morning, we shared a lock with another narrowboat and then both our boats passed a 'working pair' of boats selling coal and diesel before we came to Sandford lock, at 8'10" the deepest on the river above Teddington. 'Zindagi' and 'Isadora' fitted in easily side by side and the working pair ('Bletchley' and 'Argus') came in behind with space to spare.

Two more locks and a stop at Osney Bridge for a little shopping and sightseeing, and then we were soon off the Thames (through what seemed like another almost forgotten backwater – no signs off the river!), into Isis Lock and back onto the Oxford Canal.

Soon we were making our way through what had been described by one of the Thames lock-keepers as 'the worst bit of canal I know', through the northern suburbs of Oxford. It must have been improved since he was last here, as it was really not bad at all! Rejoining our original route at the Duke's Cut, we were soon chugging back up towards Aynho and looking at all the scenery from the opposite angle!

One place we had not visited before, though, was the little village of Kirtlington, one mile's walk from the quaintly named Pigeon Lock. The continuing improvement of Val's new knees was proved by her ability to walk there and back without much discomfort. There were plenty of interesting houses and cottages, and we liked the interesting mixture of brick and stone in this one.

On the phone, a few days before Colin and Jan came to join us, Val had asked Jan to bring her hairdressing scissors with her. So it was that, not far from Lower Heyford, Jan's towpath hairdressing salon could be seen in action. If the canal had been busier with passing boats and walkers, she might have had a queue!

Back to Aynho the evening before Colin and Jan had to leave, and the next morning reminded us that we had been enjoying a bit of borrowed time as far as the weather was concerned. It was mid-October, after all, and autumn was certainly on its way.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Upper Thames Revisited

We had just about a week after leaving Trevor and Christine at Lower Heyford until Colin and Jan (from Lapford) were due to come and join us on 6th October. Did we have time to get on the Thames for a few days and, if so, should we go upstream or down?

Whichever we did, we would need to head south to Oxford before that decision was urgent. The canal was quite quiet, with very few moving boats despite the amazing weather for late September. Here is the bridge and old stoplock at Shipton-on-Cherwell, and it almost looks like high summer! By the way, you can also see the pansies and the 'veg garden' on the roof, both of which have flourished since we planted them only a few weeks ago.

The next day, the decision was made – we would go upstream and see how far we would get in the time available.

The Upper Thames was just as we remembered it from 2007 – remote, winding and seemingly as far away from civilisation as possible. Miles of flat fields, trees sometimes lining the river and then the flurry of human activity as bridges brought with them pubs, cars, people and usually a little concentration of moored boats. Not many were moving – we had the river pretty much to ourselves!

Here is one of the oldest (13th Century) bridges on the river, ironically at Newbridge!

Without hurrying, we carried on up as far as Rushey Lock that day and, just as in May 2007, we were treated to spectacular sunset effects. This time, though, it was the autumn leaves on the trees which were painted in surreal colours by the setting sun. Yes, these are the actual colours we could see – hardly believable!

The next day, 1st of October, we reckoned that we might be able to get up to the limit of navigation at Inglesham near Lechlade, and that's how it turned out. We made our way up the remaining few locks and had lunch near Ha'Penny Bridge at Lechlade.

A quick visit to the shops and then we went on the extra half mile or so to the bridge and Round House, where we needed to turn around – that big branch didn't help, but we turned round OK! There are plans to restore the Thames and Severn Canal which used to join the Thames at this point, and hopefully will do again. Have a look at the website of the Cotswold Canal Trust for more information, photos, maps, etc.

And then back downstream again! Again, the river was almost deserted and the lock-keepers shared their surprise that more boaters were not afloat and enjoying the weather. One of them has been at the same remote lock for more than 40 years and is an avid wildlife watcher. We could have stayed and talked about otters for hours!

On the way back to Rushey Lock (again) for the night, we had the late afternoon sun directly behind us, giving us this 'sunset' picture under 'Old Man's Bridge' near Radcot, with cranes working near Radcot Lock in the background.

Next day, we continued our return journey to Oxford, passing through some amazing twists and turns of the river, including this section which is also lined with poplar trees – we were starting to get showered with falling leaves.

And so, back onto the Oxford Canal again. We had made such good time from the Thames that we reckoned we could go up to Banbury again before coming back to Aynho to meet Colin and Jan on the 6th. The weather stayed good most of the time, and certainly as we came to Somerton Deep Lock again. It is deep (12 feet change of level) but it is also very attractive, with the quaint dummy window painted on the end gable wall of the cottage, the simple old bridge and even its own little landing stage below the lock on the right. There is no road to the cottage!
Getting back to Banbury for some shopping was no problem, so we were heading back to Aynho again in good time.