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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Friends on Board

We were slowly heading south on the Oxford Canal, and had moored up for the evening a few miles from Lower Heyford, when we had a phone call from Christine and Trevor, friends we have got to know in Blisworth. Could they come and visit us on the boat? Of course they could – we were looking forward to seeing them again – the only question was to work out where to meet! The first bridge we thought of looked good until we just happened to look in a different canal guide book – it told us that (unusually) there was no connection from the bridge to the towpath. Plan B was to return to Lower Heyford, which would be easy for them to get to by car, and then we could do a 'there-and-back-again' day trip.

We met up almost exactly on time, turned in the boatyard and headed south again. It didn't take long for Trevor to really 'get into' steering the boat and, as you can see, he really took the trouble to get his navigation as accurate as possible. Not to be outdone, Christine took her turn on the windlass and helped with operating some of the locks.

We reckoned that we should have time to get to Enslow and the 'Rock of Gibraltar' pub for lunch and get back to Lower Heyford in time for them to be back for Trevor's meeting in the evening, BUT somehow the time went too quickly! Perhaps we spent too much time chatting after lunch or maybe Dave's lock/mile calculations were a little optimistic – we didn't get back until just before 7pm. We tried apologising for the delay, but they were both very happy about it. Apparently Trevor got to his meeting before it ended and said he enjoyed it so much that he now wanted a job delivering canal boats! For someone who had apparently never steered a boat in his life before, his skill was amazing. Better than many others we have seen at the tiller (of other boats, of course, NOT Zindagi!)

We look forward to welcoming Christine and Trevor on board again sometime when we are back within 'range' from Blisworth, and hope that there will be others who want to come and join us for a visit, short or long!

South by North-West!

Back to 'Zindagi' and Blisworth at the end of August, a couple of weeks there to give Val a bit more recovery time and get a few things sorted out (including a large order from Switzerland for the online garden tools business) and then it was time to start out on our travels again.

We were heading for the Kennet and Avon Canal, running from the Thames at Reading to Bristol on the Avon. The 'obvious' way would have been to go south down the Grand Union to the Thames at Brentford in London, then upstream to Reading and turn off there, but we did some calculations and worked out that this apparently shorter route was actually longer in 'lock-miles' than the alternative of travelling northwestwards via Norton Junction, Braunston and Napton, then down the Oxford Canal to join the Thames and downstream to Reading. Besides, this southern part of the Oxford Canal is one of our favourite canals, with its narrow locks, contour-hugging route and quiet countryside. It was the second canal we travelled on, back in the late 1970s, and we have been back since, on our 'share-syndicate' boat in 2005 and then on 'Zindagi' in the early part of our travels in 2007.

So, in order to travel south and west, we needed to start off going northwest, and mid-September found us going up the Whilton/Buckby flight alongside the A5, the M1 and the railway (west coast main line) and then escaping that hubbub as we headed towards the Braunston Tunnel. We emerged into the slightly surreal 'canal world' of Braunston. (You can see our wind turbine on the roof of 'Zindagi'.) Val's mobility was improving well and she managed the walk up the hill to the shop and the apparently separate and quiet world of Braunston village itself.

Moving on after a few days there, we came to Napton and the start of the narrow locks of the Oxford Canal – a welcome return! More surprising was to find ourselves apparently transported back to India as there were water buffalo in the fields next to some of the locks.

It was getting towards the end of September by now, but the weather was still very mild and there were flowers to prove it, like this beautiful Campsis radicans at Claydon locks as we started the gradual descent towards Oxford.

We probably shared a picture of Cropredy with you when we travelled down this way in 2007, but we couldn't resist taking a few more as we were moored up and watching another boat coming out of the lock behind us. Here's one of them. You can probably appreciate a little more of why we like this canal so much.

On past Banbury, we began to realise that we had forgotten that the next part of the canal is a little different from the part north of Banbury. The story is that the canal builders started running short of cash as they dug southwards, and the double gates at the bottom of each lock above Banbury disappear in favour of single gates 'top and bottom'. Wooden lift bridges start appearing (only one seen north of Banbury), but stone and brick bridges are often there at the foot of a lock. Here's a recently restored lift bridge, contrasting with the M40 bridge behind it.

And picturesque villages still hide near the canal. Some parts of both Upper and Lower Heyford have a timeless quality – apart from the cars and TV aerials, Upper Heyford's High Street seems to have remained unchanged for centuries.
There's more to come – hopefully very soon – as we update the story for you . . .