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.


Barbara said...

I am amazed to find that you are still on the boat!
Fun place to get your hair cut Val, at least you did not have to clear the mess!

Dave and Val Taylor said...

Yes, Barbara, we're still going strong! The blog is a bit behind at the moment, as we have not had a good signal for internet connection