Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Postman stole our stamp

Last Saturday we posted  a birthday card to our ten year old grandson. 
We handed it in to the post office near Barleston Station at 7am. as there is no pillar box thee.
When it arrived at the destination in Lancashire the stamp had been removed. 
The envelope was franked on the back where it could not cancel the stamp.
Why does this matter?
The stamp we used was very special: it was one of the fruit and veg range to which we could add facial features and clothes.  
This one was an orange with beady eyes, a bow tie,  a moustache and a viking hat. 
Our grandson was looking forward to receiving it.
But some unmentionable person in the postal network stole it 
How despicable can people get?

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Nuneaton to Fazeley



More activity by C&RT today.

Above Atherstone locks dredging is taking place and the spoil used to broaden the towpath (and  consequently narrow the navigation)


Several of our friends have sold their boats in the last few years and we were commenting to Ali & Elaine on Ellie Mae last night at dinner that we had not seen any of these boats around with their new owners, except Hampshire Rose
So we were pleased this morning when we passed the sister boat - Autumn Venture which had previously belonged to Jeanette & Nigel until his untimely death.

We have always encountered a queue at the Atherstone Locks (11) so were surprised to find no boats but three volunteers to assist us on the top two locks.  There were very few boats during our passage which afforded us time to pick the golden plums on the off-side near lock ten. These will follow on nicely from the blackberries we picked in Hillmorton and the gooseberries from Maggi's freezer clearout which came to us in Hillmorton courtesy of some German visitors.

After refueling at Alvecote we pushed on to Fazeley as we need some time here to get the mattress replaced.


On the aqueduct over the River Tamar (not that one!) we discovered this pillbox which we must have passed on numerous occasions but not noticed.
Another for the collection




15 miles  /  13 locks

Monday, 7 August 2017

Rugby to Nuneaton

Using the weather forecast again we decided to make a long day cruising  but could not set off until we had returned the hire car we had used over the weekend. We had moored at Hillmorton because we knew where we could leave Gecko for a few days whilst we fulfilled some commitments   up in Lancashire. When we set off we soon passed through Brownsover where we have moored many times in the past. This location is very popular, partly because of the proximity to a large Tesco store.  However, the moorings are not good and the narrow channel with boats moored both sides some boaters find difficult to negotiate. But today we found  about 100 yards of new mooring rings.
The water point has been moved but fortunately we will be ok for a while.
Last time we passed through Newbold Tunnel it was illuminated with coloured lights. I never discovered the reason and now they are gone. Only 250 yards long and two-way, it is not much more than a long bridge.
When the Oxford canal was built it provided a route from Birmingham to London via the River Thames  from Oxford. The construction of the broader and straighter Grand Junction canal cut journey times between the two cities jeopardised its survival.
In response to this threat the Oxford Canal Company undertook a programme of straightening their canal. Cutting Newbold Tunnel was part of that programme.

They also dug cuttings to eliminate the original twists and turns as evidenced by many bridges like this across the resulting  redundant loops.



Throughout our cruise today we have encountered contractors and C&RT teams working on bank improvement.










These coir rolls are the current method of  planting vegetation.

I guess this balances out the mooring improvements in Rugby.


It always takes a time to get  through Rose Narrowboats, with their swing bridge linking the site.

But today the passage is even more involved than usual.





At Ansty  bridge 15 which had been looking very precarious for many years has now had the span removed leaving just the abutments.





The U-turn at Sutton Stop where we joined the Coventry Canal was executed expertly as you would expect.








As we headed up towards Nuneaton we admired the gardens backing onto the canal and  contrasting them in our minds with thirty years ago when all we used to see was broken fridges and bedsteads




22 miles  /  1 lock  / 1 tunnel

Monday, 31 July 2017

Going West

The next job we need doing is an engine service so we have crept out of bustling Braunston to Willoughby, by a bridge where the engineer can park his Land Rover Defender (300,000+ miles on the clock and looking immaculate).



Across the canal and the road from us is what used to be the Navigation Inn on Willoughby Wharf. It is now private residences.





Moored behind us is Pilot

The bows look like they were designed for ice-breaking and there is a chimney on the roof big enough for a steam engine but also a rooftop exhaust pipe further aft.

It looks in good condition but I missed speaking to the owner  as he left in  a hurry soon after we arrived.



As we left Braunston this morning we passed the wreck of a Sea Otter which had been burnt out a couple of months ago but which had only sunk recently, possible due to people looting the few usable remains. The cause of the fire is unknown.

As we still have no phone signal, I had to go up to the road to arrange a service for our generator later on our route north. The electrical engineer mentioned that he had just fitted a new alternator for nb Tamora who was headed our way. We know Ian and Maureen from mooring with them in Aylesbury  so I was disappointed when I returned to Gecko to find they had passed whilst I was on the phone.


I was less disappointed to have missed Timothy West following them as I  deplore his performance on the recent TV series. He seems to relish bumping into boats and bridges and believes this is acceptable behaviour.
 He missed Gecko!
After the engine had been serviced we walked into Willoughby village.  Initial impressions were not particularly favourable but then we arrived the the old centre and changed our view. I have often said that we find something of interest wherever we moor and this is another example.
As a youngster our nearest railway was the Metropolitan Line immortalised by Sir John Betjeman as Metroland. I recall seeing the Master Cutler on its way from Marylebone to Sheffield but this ceased around 1960.  Willoughby and Braunston Station was on this line but this too has long gone, along with the 13-arched viaduct.




Another village pub which is no longer a hostelry is The Four Crosses. Originally this was named The Three Crosses. Leegnd has it that Jonathon Swift fell out with the landlord's wife during his stay there and engraved the following on a window with his ring.
You have three crosses on your door
Hang your wife up and you will have four 




2 miles  /  o locks

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Banbury to Priors Hardwick

Whilst in Banbury we had a little welding job done on Gecko by Tooley's Boatyard  adjacent to the Castle Quay shopping centre. I do like the way Banbury has embraced the canal over the last 30 years, although I am not sure the plans to demolish one of the car parks  by the canal and replace it with more large shops will encourage shoppers into the town centre.
Terry Pratchett published a book some years ago which I have  not read but have always liked the title -  Thief of Time. Amongst the thieves of time I put Facebook and most TV programmes. It seems to me that a documentary on the radio which would occupy 15 minutes has to be spun out to 45 or 60 minutes on TV with repeated shots of irrelevant, and sometimes inaccurate, views. I recall being encouraged to watch an episode of a series about the canals of northern England which was illustrated with a picture of a lock on the K&A.
However, I must confess to using a smartphone to check the weather before planning the next day's cruise.  The forecast for today is wall-to-wall sunshine but rain arriving tomorrow at lunchtime. Taking this on board we decided to make today a long day to compensate for a short cruise tomorrow.
As we approached Cropredy  I was negotiating a particularly narrow corner where boats were moored both sides of the canal when an oncoming boat suddenly appeared. I drew great satisfaction from the manoevre I exercised to avoid any collision. And to make my day the helmsman on the other boat praised my boating skill. I have worked all my life in activities where brickbats are the norm and bouquets don't exist so have grown accustomed to not having achievements recognised . Now I feel like celebrating this evening with one of Graham's home brews.


15 miles  /  12 locks

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Somerton to Banbury

Rain forecast in Banbury for 11am so we set off at 6.30.
Apart from low water levels between Grant's and Kings Sutton locks  the journey was fairly uneventful. We arrived in Banbury at 10.45 as planned ...........and the day was glorious sunshine all afternoon. No rain!


9 miles  /  6 locks  /  2 lift bridges

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Thrupp to Somerton

We have now spent four weeks in Thrupp during which time a new Grand-daughter arrived in Kidlington and we had four other grandkids on board , two at a time, for a week each.
Rain was forecast for around lunchtme so we filled up with water  early and set off at 7.30.
As we left Shipton on Cherwell we passed the church (more about that on another post)  behind which is the Manor.



For people of my generation this is a very famous place.










A clue to the reason is found in the front gate.


It was one of the first residential recording studios







Which made Mike Oldfield and (Sir) Richard Branson famous.



Just round the corner we passed a  derelict bridge buttress just before the current bridge.

In the foreground is the remains of the Kidlington to Blenheim railway branch which the Duke of Marlborough built in 1890.

Shipton Bridge in the morning mist
The mainline bridge is more famous, however. In 1874, on Christmas Eve a train from London to Birkenhead derailed here and crashed down onto the frozen canal. 26 died at the scene and four more on their way to hospital. The injured, numbering over 60, were taken to the paper mill adjacent to Hampton Gay Manor where they received reluctant assistance from the  lord of the manor. I have read that the Duke of Marlborough brought some staff to assist the injured. He was certainly staying at Blenheim (about four miles away) as his son (Sir) Winston Churchill had been born on November 30.
Amongst the dead were two children who were buried in Hampton Gay churchyard without inscriptions as no one came forward to identify them.
The cause of the crash was determined by a Board of Trade enquiry. Apparently the train was very full and before it left Oxford station an extra carriage was added to the train. This proved to be in poor condition with an incompatible braking system. When a third-class passenger alerted the driver to a noisy wheel he immediately braked. This caused one carriage to crash into the one in front and push it off the bridge and into the canal.

Despite the torrential rains during the previous night the river Cherwell was quite peaceful and we made good progress whilst the world appeared asleep. At Northbrook Bridge (210) we had time to take a brief look at the old pack-horse bridge which spans the adjacent Cherwell.
One surprise was that at the previous lock - Pigeons Lock - we saw two pigeons making up to each other on the telegraph wire.

Our aim was to moor just above Somerton Deep Lock before the rain came.  We were thwarted, however, as it took us an hour and a half to get throught the lock. when we arrived there were two boats above and two below. The first one up was fine but the first one down got stuck. This was not the first time we had been held up by a  Sea Otter in a lock. These aluminium boats have fenders everywhere and eventually we managed o pull most of them up and squeeze the boat out. The next boat up was a single-hander who could not manage on her own so more assistance was gien. The last one down was also a single-hander and this also got stuck on the bottom gate which was not opening fully.  With two of us pushing the gate and one pulling the bow rope this was extracted and we finally had our chance.
The rain started, of course, about 20 minutes before we tied up.


11 miles  /  8 locks  /  2 lift bridges

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

It Ain't Alf Ot Mum!

Today is the Summer Solstice, often called the Longest Day. But surely all days are the same length - approximately 24 hours. It has also been the hottest June day since the drought of 1976 when the hosepipe ban started in February. Inside Gecko the temperature reached 95F / 35C again today but the breeze made it more comfortable cruising than mooring, unless shade could be found.
Whilst in Banbury we say the narrowboat Whio from Aylesbury which is owned by two Kiwis who are in the last year of a five season plan to cover all the waterways in England. We saw them last summer on their way to the Lancaster canal. They are now en route to Cambridge and Ely.

Whilst we were waiting for the Aynho Weir lock to be vacated nb Hampshire Rose passed by. This was originally owned by Ann & Gerald who we also wintered with in Aylesbury  until they sold it last year.

Aynho Weir lock is a strange lozenge shape. Immediately before descending it the River Cherwell crosses the canal and the lock was built wider than necessary for navigation so that even when the river is low a reasonable quantity of water is transferred to the canal.


On the agricultural front this field of  flax was just coming into bloom. Presumably for the production of linseed oil. The almost lavender colour is a welcome change from the ubiquitous and garish rape.




What this Heron was hoping to catch I am not sure.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Ride a Cock Horse

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady on a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bell on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.



She also appears to have a small frog.
The reason for this is very philosophical and beyond me.


Forty years ago Banbury had the reputation as a no-go area for mooring canal boats. Since then the town has embraced the canal with retail development and mooring bollards through the town. Shoppers often park one side of the canal and cross by footbridge to the town centre. There are a number of small shops and the main chains but the proportion of empty stores and charity shops seems to be increasing.
Banbury Cake
One cannot ignore the Banbury Cake in my experience. Like the Eccles and Chorley cakes, the recipe and presentation of them depends considerably on where they are made and by whom. Having eaten each of these in their respective  locations I offer my verdict.

Eccles Cake


Eccles Cake
This is my favourite. Made with a butter-ritch flaky pastry and crammed with currants

Chorley Cake






Chorley Cake
This is my least favourite of the trio. Made with short crust pastry and a stingy filling. This resembles an individual version of the Sad cake found on the Lancs/York border.
Sad Cake



Like the Sad cake, it can be a bit dry.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Smoke on the Water

Boats seemed to leave Cropredy in waves this morning. When we arrived at the first lock there were five of us in the queue.After that initial delay, progress through subsequent locks was more evenly spread as we arrived at 15 minute intervals. Not quite as sunny as yesterday but just as windy.

The marina in Cropredy has been constructed since our last visit. With 249 moorings (currently) I expect it has an impact on traffic in the season but we encountered no adverse effects.

We did encounter a few DIStance posts in varying levels of condition. These were installed equidistant from a lock and when a working boat reached the post from either direction they would crack their whip to indicate that the lock was theirs. In the days of motorised craft, they blew the horn.
This field puzzled us: patches of the crop appear to be dead. The regular and geometric pattern indicates that this is deliberate. But why would a farmer deliberately kill patches of his crop?
After consulting out agricultural advisors the suggestion is that there may be an infestation such as blackgrass. In this case the farmer might decide to kill everything in the area for the long term benefit of the field.
However, other activities on that farm were not beneficial to canal cruising.
Of course we did meet an oncoming boat here but had no spare hands to photograph the encounter. And, yes, it was pale grey.




5 miles / 4 locks

Thursday, 15 June 2017

My New Friend

It can be lonely sitting in a lock whilst the crew gossip with other boaters but at Marston Doles yestoday this bird comes up to me...




and gives me the eye




She flirts with me




and even gets a little saucy



With suggestions beyond my repertoire



Then we get to some serious talking



And I invite her back to my place



And that's when I blew it.


Still it was good whilst it lasted

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Curly Wurly

Since leaving Saltisford we have had no cellular reception in the evenings so no blog. When we left on Monday we said farewell to Keith & Jo on Hadar. We first met them in 2009 as they set off from the Little Venice Cavalcade to start selling coal and other fuel to canal boats on the Leicester Arm. They recently retired and are living in Saltisford Arm where Jo looks after the gardens whilst Keith plans his model railway which he is building in the cargo section vacated by the sacks of coal.

We moored for the night near Long Itchington. As far as I know there is no Short Itchington, but there is a Bishop's Itchington.

7 miles / 8 locks
  

Tuesday we spent climbing the  Bascotte Staircase, the Stockton flight and  Calcutt Locks. We moored near Napton and I took a walk up the hill to the village. Once again I did not manage to find the windmill which is visible from everywhere except the village.

6.5 miles / 17 locks

Today we are back in narrow lock country.  Over the past few days we have negotiated 46 broad locks, about half of them sharing with another boat. If the other boat crew know what they are doing this can be very efficient as it was for us descending Hatton. However, we have a very good system for operating these locks alone and when we ascended the Stockton flight the boat we shared with slewed us down by their performance.
It is a few years since we climbed the Napton locks and on the last occasion we met  a boater who pushed us into the lock wall because he thought we might touch his pristine boat. Today we encountered a different symptom of Napton Madness. As we approached a lock just vacated by a  boat coming down, the crew of this boat - Grassmere - filled it up and came down too thus sending 20,000 gallons of water down the sluice and gaining them nothing.


One thing which has changed since our last visit here is that the buffalo calves are now significantly larger.



 
 
The Curly Wurly Oxford Canal

The summit level of the southern Oxford Canal follows the contours, a feature it owes to James Brindley, the pioneer of canal engineering. The map here demonstrates one of the weaknesses of this approach, particularly when competing with railways for trade. A straight line from north to south on this map would be two miles but the canal winds itself around seven tortuous miles.
 


 Any excuse to get some chocolate into the blog
 



Was this an unsuccessful attempt at a short cut?








11 miles / 9 locks