Sunday, 27 September 2009

Photographically Speaking...

And now the photos that relate to the previous post!

The lizard in the engine bay:

Lizard in the Engine Bay

Duke's Lock:

Duke's Lock 02

A valid question, near Duke's Lock:

Dukes Cut 2009

Poor, wrecked boat:


Headed for DANGER!

Headed for Danger

Wils contemplates the Thames:

Wils on the Thames

There are some amazing boats around here:



And some truly terrible ones:


Moored in Oxford:

Moored in Oxford

The Isis Sculls take over the Thames:

Isis Sculls September 2009

Approaching Lock Wood, near Abingdon:

Lock Wood on the Thames

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Lizards in the Engine Bay, Infuriating Wonka-Locks & onto the Thames!

Sadly this post will be sans photos, not for lack of photos taken in the last few days, but for the severe antiquity of current onboard computing technology. I would love to kick it up a gear and maybe get a few photos online, but I fear the boiler would explode.

Wils and I have made it onto the Thames! Leaving Thrupp, we spent one night at Kidlington, where tiles, adhesive, grout and a number of associated and equally fascinating tools were ordered, and collected the next morning. Toby now knows that tiles are heavy. Adhesive is heavy. Grouting is also rather weighty. Carrying the above in a backpack on a BMX bike is therefore HELLISH, and not an experience I'm likely to repeat soon! But at least it's all onboard now. Now if only I could tile... I started, then I stopped. It's a work in progress. Every morning I wake up in a cold boat and a sudden pang of energy to get on with it and get the stove in suddenly kicks in, but then the days heat up (I have sunburn - it's nearly October!) and the importance of the job dwindles slightly.

Lately the job of cruising on the Thames has taken priority, and what a contrast it is from the Oxford canal! They definitely haven't heard of a narrow lock on these waters! This afternoon Wils and I passed through Sandford Lock where I learnt the lock takes in 1.2 million litres of water every time it fills! I was impressed.

Also discovered a lizard in the engine bay whilst removing old paint/rust and applying new anti-rust paint in there, who seemed glad to have a new home beside the canal, hope he managed to avoid the many, many herons around these parts...

The Oxford Canal ended unceromoniously at Dukes Lock, where I skidaddled onto Dukes Cut, thus avoiding the madness of attempting to moor in central Oxford. Dukes Lock is a fitting closure to the Oxford Canal, fitting in all its fine tininess. It's like a pixie shipping canal! A very cute little affair (yes, I did just describe a lock as cute), nestled under the railway bridge and between veritable walls of plantlife, this boater advises mooring before the entrance to the lock, although going right in does cover your centre line in those prickly thistle-like baubles, which look good but won't aid you when you come to need to actually USE the centre line - anyway...

After the small scale of Dukes Lock it was on to the widening (and widening, and widening and...) Thames, and to Kings Lock - where the brilliantly mustachio'd lock keeper sold me the right to cruise on the Thames and a winning smile. Afterwards he mentioned that every British subject (remember, we're not techincally citizens these days, we're still subjects), has the right to cruise on the Thames unheeded, since the Magna Carta was drawn up, and that the Environment Agency can't stop a boater proceeding into a dangerous part of the river, they can only advise. What then, I later mused, is the deal with the EA selling licenses? If we have the right to cruise on the Thames, how can a government body permit and penalise boaters? Hmmmmm....

Past Kings Lock and on towards Godstow Lock, which is where I, temporarily, came unstuck... Getting Wils into the lock was no problem - closing the gates behind Wils was no problem - but on all of the many written instructions and push buttons available, nowhere did it say; "now that your boat's inside the lock, look over to your right and observe the terminal from which the opposite lock gates are controlled". Muggins 'ere was pushing and pulling and pressing and jabbing at control box A for nearly twenty minutes, before he realised you have to walk over to Control Box B to open the second gate. Yes, it's ridiculously simple, and if I'd seen anyone else doing it before me, I'd have had no problem - but in my defence, the entire lock is drawn up on Control Box A, with buttons beside the second gate - ok, nuff said, I'm a fool. At least now I know, right?

Past the bathing cows of Port Meadow, I come under the (enjoyably low!) Osney Bridge and there's a mooring waiting for me right in the middle of Oxford! So a shower and a night-time ramble into a town I know well was on the cards, and any pub serving Hobgoblin on tap is a good one in my book.

Early this morning we were off again, down to Osney Lock, where I'm told the Sculls are on today just a little way down the river. They certainly were, I came passed the superb island buildings beside Folly Bridge and was directed by a Race Marshal over to the moorings, where I and a number of other boaters were waiting for the race to finish so we could move on. Turns out I had a good seat right on the finish line. 50 rowers later we were allowed to continue down-river. Huge houses, huger forests (Lock Wood, apparently) and some extremely impressive underbridge art went by, photos to follow shortly of course! And here I am just below Abingdon Lock. I make that a little over 25 miles in the last 4/5 days, not bad going!

The Thames is a seriously refreshing contrast to the Oxford, it's so very, very wide; though mooring and water opportunities seem rare and even boatyards seem hard to come by... I was able to fill up with water above Abingdon Lock, so just diesel to get now... On to Wallingford! Now bring me that horizon... The next pipe bridge'll do.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

A Travelling Man's Diamonds; Calcutt to Thrupp & The Ubiquitous Floating Lettuce

Well I'm certainly overdue for a post here!

Suffice it to say that Wils and I have continued on down the Oxford having left our temporary mooring at Calcutt some time ago... So there I am, on my first day cruising single-handedly, and only just around the corner from Calcutt Marina, when DISASTER STRIKES! Well, not really disaster, let's just say I am now well aware of the importance of withdrawing all fenders from the water when entering narrow locks... Amongst the many, many various things on my mind that day, and having never tackled a narrow lock before, it simply slipped my mind. Good thing I hadn't bought that nice, new set of manilla fenders yet! So, two rope fenders lighter than before, on I went, only thanks to the superb help I received from three boaters coming the other way. In all honesty, the generosity and open willingness to help one another that I've found on the canals is incredible and only serves to highlight the lack of it in "normal" bricks-and-mortar life; it's something I hardly realised was so pronounced until I started living on the canal. It really is the case that you can be walking along a main road over a canal and everybody will ignore you in the usual city way, then you move a few metres down onto the towpath beneath the same bridge and everyone acknowledges you! Sometimes, people even smile. Gasp! Of course that's not always the case, but recent experiments have provided convincing results...

Hoping to moor up before the connurbation of Banbury was upon us, we were "mildly displeased" at finding nothing but 48 hour moorings in the centre of town, such is the nature of urban boating I'm sure. Wils and I needed to find something more in the region of 7/14 days, because a visit by train down to the south coast to visit Jem was fast approaching. Moving from the fields of the Oxfordshire countryside into the centre of Banbury is quite a contrasting experience! And there I was confronted by my very first lift bridge, which did indeed require lifting - with only a minor two hundred or so onlookers, shoppers, coffee drinkers etc surrounding me on all sides and on many tiers of shopping centre... Now - here's where I first discovered an issue for single-handers with regard to the operation of lift bridges, which remains unresolved as such; how is one supposed to operate said contraption when the lift arms are on one side of the canal and the moorings on the other? I was saved in central Banbury by being able to moor Wils very cheekily behind the hire boat that lives outside Tooleys Historic Boatyard (that looks disappointingly unhistoric until you get round the back...) which was moored on the same side as the lift arms. Long story short, I got through fine, and found a good spot to moor up just past Bridge 170:

Lift Bridge 170 on the Oxford Canal

Which happened to be a mere mile's walk from the timber yard, so over the next two weeks I visited Jem (who is coping very well with everything cos she's so brave), bought in lengths of timber and sheets of cement board, which I lugged by hand down the towpath in an extremely manly and energetic way, naturally.

There are a number of interesting walks over the fields around the outskirts of Banbury, this was etched on a footbridge sign:

Footbridge Mantra

The "dismantled railway line" was disappointing, I expected to find four children and a dog getting into scrapes and being chased by a ghostly, one-armed signalboxman called Eyepatch Joe, and given that such were my expectations, I was a little put out by the lack of such a scene. But I did meet some very friendly pigs on part of the farm that lies on the footpath route if you leave the canal at lift bridge 172 and head east-ish. The woods just beside the canal there are full of HUGE spiders and make for an excellent weaving patch of ground, the trunks being thin enough to take a loom tie-cord very comfortably (the spiders, as nature's weavers, were clearly a good indication of something appropriate in the air...) Below: a new project begins, a belt this time...


Two more photos from my time near Banbury:



The timber and cement board is, by now, installed as the surround for the wood burning stove to be - well - surrounded by. Only tiling and stove installation to go! But the mornings are getting colder, I can't deny it... Must work faster! Here it is before all of the cement board went on:


I'm having to skim everything that has happened because I have so much time to fit into one post, so here goes:

Recently brewed up another batch of real ale! This is now bottled and "aging" nicely! Prudence Pig Porter is its name, and very tasty it is too!


One of the most attractive lock keepers cottages I've seen, at Somerton Deep Lock, also recently traversed by NB Ubique I believe! Our paths have crossed a great deal recently, it seems!


A photo from my one night moored near Somerton, where the towpath was simply one edge of this huge field populated by cows. And boaters.


Which brings us almost up to the present! Currently moored at Thrupp, within shouting distance of Ubique & Maffi, the latter of the two was waiting beside my mooring when I pulled into Thrupp, always nice to find a familiar face after a long solo cruise, even if you've never seen it before in person! And it really was a long day, about 10 miles on Tuesday, about 9 miles the day before - I don't think 19 miles is too bad for two days work!

A recent venture out into the world surrounding Thrupp lead me to Hampton Gay, an abandoned village, the ruins of the Sixteenth Century Manor House still stand (partially), and there are a number of farm buildings and strange, lock/sluice-like features dotted around the undergrowth if you look hard enough... A fascinating place really, an internet search afterwards reveals that it was cursed. And then burnt down. And there's me skipping gleefully through the remains!




In that last photo; the ground floor window is HUGE from inside! Gives a superb view out onto the grounds... What a renovation project it would make... Hmmmmm....

And finally, just to prove that all sorts of things grow in the hedgerows adjacent to the canals, I found wild hops growing directly beside Bridge 220! Excuse the poor photo!


As for the ubiquitous floating lettuce - at the last three locations I've moored; there has been a perfectly intact lettuce floating in the canal nearby! Is someone laying a trail for me? Is it, in fact, the same lettuce each time, hitching a ride somewhere on Wils? Is it following me?