Saturday, February 06, 2010

Ice and Floods on the Oxford Canal

At the time of our last blog entry, we were 'stuck' on the Thames at Oxford. The river itself was fine, but the Oxford Canal was frozen solid. Dave walked over to look at it most days and there were boats there which had been iced in for weeks! No-one had been able to get through Isis Lock from the Thames to the canal – the lock chamber was full of thick ice and the canal above it the same. It was not even possible to move the gates, let alone get a boat in!

There was talk of a thaw coming, but that was not all good news! The flow and level on the Thames were safe, but already seemed to be creeping up a little. Melting snow and ice would flow into the river and its tributaries, and we could soon be back on 'red boards' and unable to move the half mile (or less) to get to the canal. We talked with the lock keeper at Osney Lock, who continued to give very helpful information and advice.
Then, on Friday 15th January, we heard the weather forecast: heavy rain coming overnight! That would certainly swell the Thames. What about the canal? The ice had melted a little, so it should just prove possible to crunch our way into Isis Lock and then out of it – but no further! It was worth a try, so we did it! It only took about 20 minutes to leave the moorings, go under Osney Bridge and turn off along the 'Sheepwash Channel' to Isis Lock and then get up through the lock. Much smashing of ice, and we were out of the lock and moored immediately above it.

(Apologies, by the way for the pink 'cast' over this photo and some of the others. The replacement camera that Dave got is faulty, so we hope to get another replacement soon!)

That night, it certainly did rain! Dave's morning walk confirmed that we had only just made it in time. The lock keeper told him that he had been up at 1 a.m. to manage the weirs and that the river had gone straight onto 'red boards' from then. Who knows how long we would have needed to wait for the Thames to subside again?

The rain had helped the ice on the canal to thin out a little so, the next day, we crunched forward a few yards so that we weren't blocking the lock entrance – no-one else was moving, anyway – and went on waiting for the thaw! Walking up the canal, we could see that the ice was slowly disappearing.

By mid-day the next day, it was clear enough to move and we were soon in completely ice-free water. We even had some help with a lock from a passing family! People are constantly amazed at how easy it is to move a lock gate when the water levels are right, and these kids really DID do it themselves!

Was the ice all gone? Maybe now we could make some progress?

Not so fast! Only five miles on from Isis lock, we reached Roundham Lock and found the canal frozen solid above it. Why? Possibly being a bit more exposed to the cold, but probably mainly because the small stream which flowed in immediately below the lock had just given enough flow to the canal to stop it freezing up. Without that, we were back to crunching our way to the bank to moor up and wait – again! The coal boat 'Dusty' was moored there already, empty and unoccupied, and then another boat came up the lock and moored up just behind it.
Next morning, 'Dusty' to the rescue! Mark had to get 'Dusty' to a nearby wharf to collect his next load of coal and diesel, so he just went on crunching, taking a run at the ice where needed, and left a path through the ice for us, and also for a contractor's working boat, who said they wouldn't be long – they were only going to turn around and come back! We followed after lunch, passed 'Dusty' at the wharf and moored near 'The Jolly Boatman' on the edge of Thrupp village. The canal was still filled with ice and the contractor's boat had not reached the turning point.
Talking with other moored boaters, we heard that ice was not the only problem. Just a mile and a half upstream, the canal joins the River Cherwell until the next lock, and the Cherwell was in flood. So we had to wait again, this time for both the ice to melt and the floods to subside! This 'lake' is actually a flooded field with quite a flow of water through it.

Two days later, 'Dusty' had loaded up, so we bought some coal and diesel. The contractor's boat crunched on the half-mile or so to Thrupp Wide and then had 'fun' trying to turn in solid ice, eventually succeeding. The river was still high but showing signs of easing, and the temperature was slowly rising . . .

By mid-day the next day, it seemed OK to make a move. The ice from Thrupp Wide to the river was 'crunchable' and the river level was just in the 'proceed with caution' range – so we did it! Going upstream in those conditions makes us glad that we opted for a 43hp engine and not a 38hp one. We weren't at full throttle, but it is very comforting to have something in reserve!

No more ice above the river section, so we chugged on to Lower Heyford in much more normal conditions. By now, it was obvious that we would not be able to reach Blisworth and moor up for a few weeks, so we started trying to find an alternative on the Oxford Canal. There was no room at Heyford, so we moved on towards Aynho and found that the Cherwell was still flooding into the canal, as you can see!

We checked a couple of other possible moorings but staying at Aynho seemed like the best idea. Mike and Helen said they could fit us in after a few days, so we moored up by the towpath and started making plans to collect our car from Blisworth. It would take a 1¼ mile walk uphill to Aynho village and then three bus journeys with a 2-hour wait in Brackley on the way. It all worked out well, including Val walking up the hill and, after visiting friends in Blisworth, the return journey took only 40 minutes or so, even though we missed a turning!

So here we are for the next few weeks, apart from 4 or 5 days cruising with Joe and Wendy who plan to join us tomorrow. There are a few things to do on the boat, including some touch-up painting (weather permitting), and it is quite enjoyable to be stationary for a while, with the luxury of plug-in power and no need to brave the cold! This is just a small boatyard, but there are a few 'residential' boats moored just along the canal, so there is a small community here and we are getting to know our neighbours as well as making occasional visits to Blisworth . . .
. . . and then there is always the planning for this year's travels . . !