Woke up especially squashed into the wall, peered out the porthole to find we’d been beached over night – atleast the water levels had dropped some more. Poled the boat away from the bank and set off…with the ipad on the roof we followed our blue google earth dot checking out what nastiness might be lurking round the next corner. Murk sat in his not in/not out position where he’s been behaving brilliantly and has pretty much gone un-noticed, for a change.
There’s no doubt that power is a key part of this river malarkey, let the boat pootle along like something from Wind in the Willows and it’s away from you in no time. A controlled arrival at Sandford lock, clanking and clanging of gates and we were out the other side. An almost enjoyable stretch from Sandford lock down to Abingdon, other than a crazy hireboat heading at us side on, landing us in the trees; that’s lightweight, just a few measly scratches and once we’d retrieved the ipad that luckily flopped in with Murk rather than the river we brushed ourselves free of foliage and were on our way.
The shoot for Abingdon lock is definitely not one to be missed, impending doom lies ahead in the form of the most gigantic weir. A bonus water fill at the top of the lock before heading on down, in front of a huge Easter Sunday audience. Steamed on over the choppy waters and down into Abingdon, on the look out for a mooring spot – downstream makes this quite a challenge, by the time your eyes have seen it..told your brain..to tell you mouth.. to tell the person on the tiller, it’s all passed you by. Which is exactly what happened. So we cruised on down and did a u-ey (no need for winding holes out here) before blasting the engine to get back upstream and moored.
Hands have stopped shaking enough to type now. At 7am doors of the boat in front were pinned open, the old guy dressed as though he had a full day of boating ahead. We pondered how that could be, with the boards still red? Heard his engine start and popped out, expecting to see him turn in the lock and head back up the Oxford canal…but no, his wife shut the gate and they headed straight on out to the Thames. Power to the pensioner. And then another one went. This was way too much to handle, so we untied moved down to the end of the residential arm, stopped for a quick Sainsburys trip/water fill before reversing back up and out to join the Thames.
Under the railway bridge, a left turn, then waited to be hit by the water we’d head into. Joy. A few puzzled looks from canoeists who’d had to carry their canoes upstream, it wasn’t long before we’d picked up quite some speed. Under the very narrow, very shallow bridge like a giant pooh stick , Osney lock loomed. A bit of a lose lose situation as you need power on to steer but this leaves you even less able to stop. Arriving at the lock we got suckered onto the wier, hoping and praying the ricketty looking wood held as we struggled to get free. The lock keepers are amazing, more therapists for traumatised boaters really – even idiots who decide to ignore their red warning boards. Apparently the other two boats crash landed too. Slightly shaken, the enormous electronic metal gates opened and we were released into another stretch of water on red boards. Things got worse, approaching Folly bridge and it wasn’t clear which way we were supposed to go – eeeeek. Eventually reversished a little way before getting whipped round and smashed into a bridge…by which time splinters of paint work and branches lay over the stern and I was hyperventilating on my knees, hanging onto the grab rail.
So three miles into our 40 miles journey down to Reading, we’ve learnt some lessons. A stark contrast to the real world where political correctness has left people spending so much time filling in risk assessment forms they never have time to do anything remotely risky; out here you get to know what you’re not supposed to do, if you do it, fine, however you’re not insured and the boat is quite likely to sink. Am never ever going on a red stretch of river ever again. Just heard Nick calling from the bow ‘And just when I was beginning to think this wasn’t an adventure…’
And if any of the photos look pleasant, it wasn’t. And breath….
The vultures are circling, boats have come forward towards the starting line – reluctant to take another turn for water, people have their pole position and space is running out. Messages scrawled on scraps of paper have appeared in windows: ‘WAITING ‘TIL THAMES DROP RED BOARDS’ or ‘GEARBOX PROBLEMS’, in the hope of escaping overstay mooring charges. The Thames Conditions site is slowly turning more amber than red, but so far, nobody has made a move.
Went down to Osney lock this morning, red boards confirmed, we walked Murk and then headed back for an Oxford afternoon. Managed to pass by the Ashmolean Museum each day so far, but thought it looked like something we should be interested in. Entered the carousel door, figuring we’d be spinning back round it, heading out about five minutes later. Audio guides in hand, we were off, not long before we wandered along to the mummy of Djeddjehutyiuefankh, a son of a priest and a lady…totally real, saw footage of it being lifted from the tomb, not sure Oxford University museum would have been the afterlife he’d have imagined, but it is one, at least. Floor after floor of time tunnel objects, saw the cast of a Homo georgicus skull dating back 1.8 million years, they were small brained homimins (SFR?:))
By the time we reached the huge stash of gold Roman coins they were hardly registering, so with our fill of history we left and headed through the freezing streets, jam packed with Easter crowds.
Our first glimpse of the Thames for a few days. Way less flooding than when we first arrived in Oxford but still red warnings on most sections. Walked up to Godstow and got talking to the lock keeper about a sunken boat, it came loose on the mooring pins, was taken by the river and smashed into a bridge before sinking…ending up on it’s side in a 20ft trench. Work is due to start next week (luckily we don’t go that way), as that section isn’t drainable and the bridge in two spans dating from 1792 is a listed structure, the recovery will include: cranes, divers, boats, inflatable devices and scaffolding and the bill will be about £60,000. With all the sticks and easy access to the Thames, Murk behaved as though he was on speed for the entire walk and was an absolute pain – only comparison to Fenton stopped us from holding him under the water for a very long time http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GRSbr0EYYU
Moved down through a pretty tight squeeze of boats outside College Cruisers, ‘Going on down the Thames?’ shouted one guy from his cratch, Nick’s eyes narrowed, slowly his head turned to me, then to the side and back to answer the question. I sensed he felt there was mileage in this one. ‘Just waiting for a few more amber boards, probably go Sunday.’ The burly bloke frowned, ‘Sunday?’ he scoffed. Not so sure he knows about the boards. So, it seems he’ll be going first…perfect…after him, we will follow.
Missed the Queens appearance for the Royal Maundy Service at Christ Church Cathedral, just about made it into the city centre to see the last barricade being loaded onto the lorry. A five-hour window of waiting in the icy wind, no thank you.
So we sit and walk and wait and make chocolate cake, Oxford is not such a bad place to be doing that though.
Untied and made our way back down through Dukes lock, with a boat fit to burst with logs it was heartbreaking to pass some by but better that than sinking. Moved on under the lift bridges that are fast becoming familiar sights, shimmying up the arms and crashing to ground is quite run of the mill. Pulled in for water and filled everything in sight, preparation for our second Oxford sit in.
These light evenings has people’s light/curtain protocol in tatters, brilliant opportunity for some nosing. Oxford house prices manage to make Guildford seem quite downtown. In the fairly modest Plantation Street you can pick up a 2 bed Victorian terrace for £595,000 but if you dare to dream canal frontage you might like to consider a project http://www.pennyandsinclair.co.uk/sales-property.html?propid=10001830 if you just feel to hell with the work and want to move straight in, then think well over a million – starting with this (we’re at the bottom of their garden:)) http://www.pennyandsinclair.co.uk/sales-property.html?propid=10001627 – wowzers.
A lovely trip to nowhere today. Up through Dukes lock and to the waterpoint. On, then pulled in by the stack of logs we stocked up on the other day, more chopping gone on there, now the stack is even bigger than before. Chugged past a boat displaying daily quotation with floatation, taken straight from some middle management self-help book by the sounds of things. The next turning point was under the previously troublesome lift bridge at Thrupp. Span round then a speedy mooring, dropped bin bags at the services…did NOT pick up an oil lamp this time as, having searched Oxford and finally sourced a wick then bought oil for the last one it leaked all over the table, all night. Something looked too good to be true and it was. Dumped it, along with the oil.
On the look out for an ideal sub zero barbecue mooring we made our way back down the canal and tied up next to open farmland with a few local children playing in the woods opposite…how lovely. With a continual supply of waterpoints I headed into the shower for a steamy hair wash, remembering Kerastase is not just a shampoo but a ‘whole body experience’ (oh yeh) I stood squidging my hair, when suddenly the boat tilted violently sending me crashing against the wall. Next thing there were thundering footsteps on the roof. Thought fat boy had begun his barbecuing in a frenzy by jumping on the heavy side, then thought nothing more about it. Out ten minutes later, wringing my hair in a towel to be told I’d missed the action and we were ‘under attack’. When the he hoody wannabes decided to hurl a bottle they’d probably envisaged an elderly couple, so hadn’t quite bargained on the ferocious coal wielding monkey leaping onto the roof and hurling black missiles at their heads. Anyhow, they disappeared pretty quick and haven’t been seen since.
The coldest March since 1963, and our first spring living on a boat. Back out in the country, we were perfectly positioned to do engine type things that require turfing the back of the boat out onto the tow path – probably not really the done thing in the centre of Oxford. The usual list was worked through: battery top up, nut tightening, oil check, stern gland, and our favourite…the fuel filter. Over a month since the last replacement that showed signs of diesel bug, finding a relatively gunk free filter today was a very happy sight; a double dose, followed by another single dose of Marine 16 seems to have done the trick. Engine running for battery boosting and a couple more washes.
Went for what promised to be a pleasant walk along Duke’s cut and out to the Thames. Mud and more mud. Permanent moorers have even resorted to laying carpet outside the boats so their feet don’t disappear on the way home. Needless to say the Thames looked foreboding, not a single boat in sight.