Meeting Old Friends
Sunday 23rd September
After posting my blog and a walk around the Marina to get warm, I reversed into the Marina entrance, winded and headed off in the direction of Napton, stopping briefly at Midland Swindlers to get some solid fuel, but they had completely sold out. I should have had part of my order off NBT yesterday, but by the time I had thought of it, they had clothed up. I have had the occasional fire at night, so I may get by without any extra fuel.
The afternoon was pleasant, but still draughty and I did eventually moor up by Bridge 100, which seems to be a favourite spot for quite a few boaters. Very few boats passed by and there were only one or two houses visible in the distance and the sun was still shining, which was a welcome change to what we had been having the last few days.
I put up the aerial to see what strength wi-fi I could get and very surprised I was when I got a BT signal, even though it was only 2/3 bars. It was surprisingly fast too at that strength. The TV was good too for being way out in the sticks.
Monday 24TH September
I set off for Napton and arrived about 13.00, which gave me a choice of moorings. I strolled up to The Folly for a quiet afternoon pint and read the menu for the evening. I was determined to have one of their delicious meals again with those excellent home cooked chips. Actually, they were not quite as crispy as the last time and I think it might be in order to specify this when ordering the meal, but that aside, it was as good overall as the last one.
I did stroll up to read instructions for restrictions on opening and closing times of the lock flight, due to the long standing drought that we experienced throughout the long hot summer. The locks would open at 10 am the following morning and the last locking though would be at 3 pm. This long period without boats was time for the back pumps to refill the top pound. It was the same at Claydon Locks the other end of the summit pound.
Tuesday 25th September
No point in rising early this morning with the late opening of the bottom lock, though I was early enough to be fourth in the queue and stopped to water up whilst waiting. The gates were unlocked at 09.45 and we started to move forward as the first boat got into the lock. Eventually it was my turn and the volunteer helped me through, but he was the only one on the flight of eight. Fortunately, I was preceded by a hire boat with a crew of three men and to speed things up two of them hung back and worked about three or four locks for me until another boat came down the flight and the lock was in my favour. Following behind was another hire boat with two ladies who kept on catching me up, so the lady with the windlass would assist me through. In all it took three hours, but bear in mind that there were several locks where there was a queue.
After Marston Doles Top Lock, I had to stop and lift the weed hatch to clear the blades, which had a collection of string, plastic and assorted rags wrapped around the propeller. I made a sandwich so that I could continue on the move quickly and headed for Fenny Compton and The Wharf Inn, seven miles away. Surprisingly, the summit pound was up to normal level, which is the result of back pumping from both ends over a long period.
Arriving at 4 pm, I was surprised that there were still three 50ft moorings available at this very busy place. After tying up I deserved that refreshing pint in what was a very busy pub.
Wednesday 26th September
I made enquiries from a residential boater about coal supplies at the nearby marina office and delighted that it was on the affirmative. Sure enough they had Pureglow which I had never used before, but I was getting desperate by this time now that the nights were drawing in and it was cold at night after very sunny days.
I was lucky not to have met another boat in Fenny Tunnel, which was a tunnel once, but had been opened out many years ago. I was in danger of getting the chimney smacked by a tree branch or even dislodged and being stainless steel it was unlikely to be retrievable by a magnet. At the moment there are no fixings to attach it to the boat, so it was very vunerable. Shortly before getting to the first lift bridge, I stopped and removed it as well as the liner.
Claydon Locks were next and here again, I did very few solo. There were either boats behind me or coming in the opposite direction. Strangely enough, I passed by nb Slow Pace that I had previously seen moored in Braunston and the woman I had the argument at Giffard Park with walked up to the lock with her yapping dogs, but she did not offer to help me through, so I think she recognised me and not a word was spoken between us. Her husband did acknowledge me as I passed the boat.
After Claydon there were three more locks to Cropredy and although there was room to moor Stronghold partway down the visitor moorings there, another boat was selfishly sitting between two other boats with about 10 yds space fore and aft, so I had to reverse back to the far end and this was at 4 pm, so fairly early as far as getting a place.
I took a walk down to The Red Lion, but the barman was in the cellar, so service was slow and there were only another two punters in the bar, so hardly exciting. The tables were not laid for dinner, so I presumed that either they were not serving on a Wednesday or the kitchen was closed. Maybe it was time to try The Brasenose Arms next time.
Thursday 27th September
Another beautiful day with wall to wall sunshine and hardly any wind – ideal cruising weather for travelling on to Banbury. I had some help at the locks from an Australian guy from Melbourne who appeared to be returning his College Cruisers boat to Jericho.
In three hours, I pulled in to the moorings in the shopping centre of Banbury, where I was spoiled for choice. After a galley cleaning session, a shower and finishing off a book, I decided to visit The Three Pigeons Inn for a change instead of The Olde Rein Deer, which is limited to Hook Norton Ales, which I have had over the past few days.
It was a 17thC part thatched building couple of steps below street level, meaning that the road had been built up over the centuries. There were several rooms, most of them being laid up for dinner service, with the old locals inhabiting the bar area. Very other people were about and the place was rather dark for some reason, presumably because there were few lights on. I moved into the garden area, which was comfortably furnished and very pleasant. Only two real ales were on tap: Purity Gold and Doombar. The food menu was very pricy for a pub, with fillet steak at £26.95! Not a place I would frequent very often and no comparison to the atmosphere of The Olde Rein Deer in Parsons Street.
Friday 28th September
I was reading the Herbie blog and knew that Neil and Kath were now off the Thames at Oxford after cruising up to Lechlade, so I made contact and arranged to meet up at Aynho and go to The Great Western Arms, which is a very well appointed Hook Norton pub. What I did not realise on Thursday morning, was that today was actually Friday and it was only when I started writing up the blog that I realised what day it was. There was no time to waste as it was already 11.30am. I asked a passing boat if they could hold the lift bridge for me after their boat went through and the I had assistance with the lock, so that went smoothly. The lift bridge can be a real problem to solo boaters.
It was imperative that I did some food shopping at Morrison’s, which is close to The Tramway Moorings and that took another hour. I passed nb Lindy Lou and hooted, but someone was having a shower at the time and probably Vic was out walking Eric the dog, so no contact was made.
I was in front of a hire boat with a couple of Australians on board and I got some assistance through the Claydon flight by the man when they caught me up, so every little thing helped me reach Aynho at 5pm and I moored just behind Herbie. Neil invited me in for coffee and we spent an hour telling boating tales. I had to shower and change and we walked along the towpath to the pub, where we had good food and beer for the next two hours and as Neil remarked the following morning, we did not mention boat toilets or batteries at all during that time.
Saturday 29th September.
After a late morning chat with Neil, we both let go for our respective destinations: they to Banbury and me to Lower Heyford. After filling with water there, I got a mooring very close and walked up to The Bell for a pint, which closed the day after a very late start.
Sunday 30th September.
The next port of call was to be Thrupp which was somewhat earlier that the previous day and there are two pubs here. When I got to the lift bridge, I pulled in on the opposite side to the water point and although there are two pedestals to operate the bridge, I had chosen the wrong side, because once through the bridge, I thought I could not operate from the towpath side, so asked a waiting motorist to close it for me, so speeding things up. This worked well and I walked back over the bridge to retrieve the key. I found out the following day that it can be operated from either side, once the key is in. All the same, it was still quicker for the waiting traffic to get through when done by someone waiting to cross.
I found a convenient mooring alongside the cottages and tied up before venturing to The Boat, which turned out to be a pub with no beer! I went further along the towpath towards The Jolly Boatman, but never got there, as I was waylaid by a frantic knocking on the window of a boat that I was passing. Well I never - it was Maffi! I had heard from Kath and Neil that he was on his way up to Banbury. At the same time, I bumped into Kevin and Ingrid on their way back from the pub, so it all happened at once. Maffi asked if I could cope with wine instead of beer and I willingly succumbed to his invitation. Also I was introduced to Susan, his new girlfriend and delightful she was too and very chatty. Dave Parry also joined us and good boating conversation was enjoyed by all – even Susan. In two hours it was dark and although Maffi offered me a torch to get back, there were pedestal lights along the towpath and I got back safely.
Monday 1st October
I decided to stay on the moorings until Tuesday, as I wanted to meet up with Anne and Peter Darch. He had not responded to my previous text and e-mail, so I phoned their landline and spoke to Anne, who was most surprised to hear from me and we arranged to meet for lunch at The Jolly Boatman. As Peter had gone off up the towpath to find me, I had an in depth conversation with Anne about Peter’s inability to get a grip on things and his failing memory over the last year, since we met up then. He eventually returned and we had a good lunch and conversation, to which Peter never really contributed..
The immaculate moorings at Thrupp.
A yarn bombed Thrupp wheel barrow.
Later in the afternoon, I walked up to the services to have a look at the books available for exchange and charity. Ken Haynes had just returned from the Parkhead Festival in Brum and we had a brief chat: arranging to have a drink later. When I got back to The Jolly Boatman again, there was Ken, Kevin and Mike, my earlier source of information in The Rock of Gibraltar about Kevin and Ingrid’s whereabouts. The towpath telegraph works wonders, but too many mates in Thrupp is bad for my liver!
Tuesday 2nd October
Time to move on again and I said my goodbyes to Maffi, who is returning to the Thames after visiting Banbury. It was steady progress, although there was a queue of three boats at Rowndham Lock, which delayed things a bit. There was another delay at Kidlington Green Lock, because a CRT work boat was in the lock, whilst the crew cleared out debris from behind the bottom gate. Two other locks previously also had the same problem, so there must have been complaints.
Just beyond the lock at Wolvercote, I stopped above Bridge 236 and moored up to pay a visit to The Plough, which completed 100 pubs on the Memento Database, started by Colin Wilks a couple of years ago for NBT use, but abandoned more recently and take over by yours truly. I do remember visiting the pub some many years ago and it is still owned by the same miserable landlord. I think you would need a mooring spike to crack a smile form him.
Close to Oxford now, I picked up a blade full and however many times I chucked back, I could not shake it off, so eventually I had to moor up and drag it all off through the weed hatch.
With the blades that much cleaner I progress to Jericho Moorings at 4pm and surprise, there were only two other boats there, so acres of space. Time to write up this blog, because it was well in arrears. Then, a visit to The Bookies, aka The Old Bookbinders, one of my all time favourites. Although a Greeedy King house, there is always a guest beer on offer and the food is French, cooked by the landlord and his son.